State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2011WV158B
Title: Stable isotope fingerprinting of waters in area of accelerating Marcellus shale gas development
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2011
End Date: 2/29/2012
Congressional District: 1
Focus Categories: Geochemical Processes, Groundwater, Surface Water
Keywords: Stable isotope, Fingerprint, frac flowback water, coal mine water, groundwater, surface water
Principal Investigators: Sharma, Shikha (West Virginia University); Sharma, Shikha (West Virginia University)
Federal Funds: $ 25,275
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 50,550
Abstract: The proposed work will explore the utility of stable isotopes to address one of the most important energy-water issues emerging in the Appalachians i.e., the water quality issues associated with Marcellus shale gas drilling. We are therefore contributing to the knowledgebase of "Energy production impact on water resources" which has been identified as one of the critical areas of research in this year's Request for Proposals by the West Virginia Water Research Institute.

One of the main environmental concerns associated with Marcellus shale development in the Appalachians is that highly saline frac flowback water produced as a by-product of gas extraction can adversely affect the water quality of surface waters and groundwater aquifers of the area. However, in this area of Marcellus shale development, water flowing through acres of abandoned surface and deep coal mines and some saline formation waters can also be highly saline. Therefore, in some instances it can be difficult to decouple contribution of coal mine waters vs saline formation waters vs frac flowback waters to the freshwater streams and/or aquifers of the region based on routine geochemical characteristics. We seek to explore the utility of a multi stable isotope approach for characterizing different water sources in areas of accelerating Marcellus shale gas development. During the first year of the project we will collect groundwater samples from different formations, surface waters, and coal mine waters in the region. The groundwater and surface water samples will be collected from different USGS surface water and groundwater monitoring sites in West Virginia. Temperature, electrical conductivity, and pH of the samples will be measured at the time of sampling. The samples will be analyzed for stable isotopic composition (δ13C DIC , δ18OH2O , δDH2O , δ34SSO4 and δ18OSO4), alkalinity, cations (major cations Ca, Mg, Na, K and metals Fe, Mn, Al), and major anions (SO4 2- , Cl-, F-, NO3-- and PO4-). This will help end-member isotopic and geochemical characterization of a few groundwater formations, streams and coal mine water sources in the study area. During this time period we also propose to initiate developing contacts for accessing frac flowback water from Marcellus shale gas drilling sites for next years sampling.

We hypothesize that stable isotope composition of surface waters, fresh/saline groundwater aquifers, coal mine waters and frac flowback waters will be different from one another. Our rationale is that these waters have undergone different types/degree of water-rock vs water-coal interactions and/or received recharge during different time periods. The natural stable isotope tracers could potentially be used in conjunction with other routine geochemical parameters to identify surface waters and groundwater aquifers that have received significant contribution from coal mine waters and/or Marcellus frac flowback waters. Successful application of isotope techniques developed in this project are expected to enhance our ability to address water quality issues associated with Marcellus shale development and help develop better water resource protection policies.

Progress/Completion Report, 2011, PDF

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