In January 2001, State oil and gas inspectors noted bubbles of natural gas in well water during a complaint investigation near Tioga Junction, Tioga County, north-central Pa. By 2004, the gas occurrence in ground water and accumulation in homes was a safety concern; inspectors were taking action to plug abandoned gas wells and collect gas samples. The origins of the natural-gas problems in ground water were investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in wells throughout an area of about 50 mi2, using compositional and isotopic characteristics of methane and ethane in gas and water wells. This report presents the results for gas-well and water-well samples collected from October 2004 to September 2005.
Ground water for rural-domestic supply and other uses near Tioga Junction is from two aquifer systems in and adjacent to the Tioga River valley. An unconsolidated aquifer of outwash sand and gravel of Quaternary age underlies the main river valley and extends into the valleys of tributaries. Fine-grained lacustrine sediments separate shallow and deep water-bearing zones of the outwash. Outwash-aquifer wells are seldom deeper than 100 ft. The river-valley sediments and uplands adjacent to the valley are underlain by a fractured-bedrock aquifer in siliciclastic rocks of Paleozoic age. Most bedrock-aquifer wells produce water from the Lock Haven Formation at depths of 250 ft or less.
A review of previous geologic investigations was used to establish the structural framework and identify four plausible origins for natural gas. The Sabinsville Anticline, trending southwest to northeast, is the major structural feature in the Devonian bedrock. The anticline, a structural trap for a reservoir of deep native gas in the Oriskany Sandstone (Devonian) (origin 1) at depths of about 3,900 ft, was explored and tapped by numerous wells from 1930-60. The gas reservoir in the vicinity of Tioga Junction, depleted of native gas, was converted to the Tioga gas-storage field for injection and withdrawal of non-native gases (origin 2). Devonian shale gas (shallow native gas) also has been reported in the area (origin 3). Gas might also originate from microbial degradation of buried organic material in the outwash deposits (origin 4).
An inventory of combustible-gas concentrations in headspaces of water samples from 91 wells showed 49 wells had water containing combustible gases at volume fractions of 0.1 percent or more. Well depth was a factor in the observed occurrence of combustible gas for the 62 bedrock wells inventoried. As well-depth range increased from less than 50 ft to 51-150 ft to greater than 151 ft, the percentage of bedrock-aquifer wells with combustible gas increased. Wells with high concentrations of combustible gas occurred in clusters; the largest cluster was near the eastern boundary of the gas-storage field. A subsequent detailed gas-sampling effort focused on 39 water wells with the highest concentrations of combustible gas (12 representing the outwash aquifer and 27 from the bedrock aquifer) and 8 selected gas wells. Three wells producing native gas from the Oriskany Sandstone and five wells (two observation wells and three injection/withdrawal wells) with non-native gas from the gas-storage field were sampled twice. Chemical composition, stable carbon and hydrogen isotopes of methane (13CCH4 and DCH4), and stable carbon isotopes of ethane (13CC2H6) were analyzed. No samples could be collected to document the composition of microbial gas originating in the outwash deposits (outwash or 'drift' gas) or of native natural gas originating solely in Devonian shale at depths shallower than the Oriskany Sandstone, although two of the storage-field observation wells sampled reportedly yielded some Devonian shale gas. Literature values for outwash or 'drift' gas and Devonian shale gases were used to supplement the data collection.
Non-native gases fr