The prospect of natural gas development from the Marcellus and Utica Shales has raised concerns about freshwater aquifers being vulnerable to contamination. Well owners are asking questions about subsurface methane, such as, “Does my well water have methane and is it safe to drink the water?” and “Is my well system at risk of an explosion hazard associated with a combustible gas like methane in groundwater?”
This newfound awareness of methane contamination of water wells by stray gas migration is based upon studies such as Molofsky and others (2011) who document the widespread natural occurrence of methane in drinking-water wells in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. In the same county, Osborn and others (2011) identified elevated methane concentrations in selected drinking-water wells in the vicinity of Marcellus Shale gas-development activities, although pre-development groundwater samples were not available for comparison.
A compilation of dissolved methane concentrations in groundwater for New York State was published by Kappel and Nystrom (2012). Recent work documenting the occurrence and distribution of methane in groundwater was completed in southern Sullivan County, Pennsylvania (Sloto, 2013). Additional work is ongoing with respect to monitoring for stray gases in groundwater (Jackson and others, 2013). These studies and their results indicate the importance of collecting baseline or pre-development data. While such data are being collected in some areas, published data on methane in groundwater are sparse in the Upper Delaware River Basin of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. To manage drinking-water resources in areas of gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Upper Delaware River Basin, the natural occurrence of methane in the tri-state aquifers needs to be documented.
The purpose of this report is to present data on dissolved methane concentrations in the groundwater in the Upper Delaware River Basin. The scope is restricted to data for Pennsylvania and New York, no U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) methane analyses are presently available for northwestern New Jersey.