A survey of methane in groundwater was undertaken to document methane occurrence on the basis hydrogeologic setting within a glaciated 1,810-square-mile area of south-central New York along the Pennsylvania border. Sixty-six wells were sampled during the summer of 2012. All wells were at least 1 mile from any known gas well (active, exploratory, or abandoned). Results indicate strong positive and negative associations between hydrogeologic settings and methane occurrence. The hydrogeologic setting classes are based on topographic position (valley and upland), confinement or non-confinement of groundwater by glacial deposits, well completion in fractured bedrock or sand and gravel, and hydrogeologic subcategories. Only domestic wells and similar purposed supply wells with well-construction and log information were selected for classification. Field water-quality characteristics (pH, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, and temperature) were measured at each well, and samples were collected and analyzed for dissolved gases, including methane and short-chain hydrocarbons. Carbon and hydrogen isotopic ratios of methane were measured in 21 samples that had at least 0.3 milligram per liter (mg/L) of methane.
Results of sampling indicate that occurrence of methane in groundwater of the region is common—greater than or equal to 0.001 mg/L in 78 percent of the groundwater samples. Concentrations of methane ranged over five orders of magnitude. Methane concentrations at which monitoring or mitigation are indicated (greater than or equal to 10 mg/L) were measured in 15 percent of the samples. Methane concentrations greater than 0.1 mg/L were associated with specific hydrogeologic settings. Wells completed in bedrock within valleys and under confined groundwater conditions were most closely associated with the highest methane concentrations. Fifty-seven percent of valley wells had greater than or equal to 0.1 mg/L of methane, whereas only 10 percent of upland wells equaled or exceeded that concentration. Isotopic signatures differed between these groups as well. Methane in valley wells was predominantly thermogenic in origin, likely as a result of close vertical proximity to underlying methane-bearing saline groundwater and brine and possibly as a result of enhanced bedrock fracture permeability beneath valleys that provides an avenue for upward gas migration. Isotopic signatures of methane from four upland well samples indicated a microbial origin (carbon-dioxide reduction) with one sample possibly altered by microbial methane oxidation. Water samples from wells in a valley setting that indicate a mix of thermogenic and microbial methane reflect the close proximity of regional groundwater flow and underlying saline water and brine in valley areas. The microbial methane is likely produced by bacteria that utilize carbon dioxide or formational organic matter in highly reducing environments within the subregional groundwater flow system. This characterization of groundwater methane shows the importance of subsurface information (hydrogeology, well construction) in understanding methane occurrence and provides an initial conceptual framework that can be utilized in investigation of stray gas in south-central New York.