Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019KY287B

Identification of the causes and extent of elevated groundwater methane concentrations in Eastern Kentucky

Institute: Kentucky
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-06-17 End Date: 2020-06-16
Total Federal Funds: $9,602 Total Non-Federal Funds: $19,792

Principal Investigators: Andrea M. Erhardt

Abstract: The occurrence of methane in eastern Kentucky groundwater is a serious health and safety concern as the accumulation of methane gas in enclosed areas can result in potentially explosive conditions. A recent study in northeastern Kentucky by Zhu et al. (2017) found intermittently high methane concentrations, with six wells having concentrations within the “immediate action†concentration range. These samples were predominantly located adjacent to oil and gas wells within the Berea Play. However, in southeastern Kentucky LeDoux et al. (2016) did not observe the same high concentrations or proximity relationships between methane and well development. Within the ~60 kilometers separating these sampling regions, there is no information on how far south the high methane region extends or what controls the concentration differences. To address this data gap, this study will sample and analyze ~30 groundwater wells located within Magoffin, Floyd, and Knott counties, spanning the region between two existing groundwater methane studies. These sites will be selected in collaboration with Agricultural extension officers, ensuring full coverage of potentially impacted regions while providing an avenue to share results with stakeholders. After impacted wells are identified and sampled, both the water and dissolved gas will be geochemically characterized. To identify the source of any observable methane, isotope ratios of both the carbon and hydrogen in methane will be measured. These isotopic ratios will distinguish between biogenic or thermogenic methane, indicating either natural or anthropogenic sources. Additionally, concentrations of cations, anions, and metals in the water will characterize water quality. Finally, the measurement of water isotopes and dissolved organic carbon isotopes will serve to identify different water sources. This study will provide baseline information for groundwater methane concentrations and serve as guidance to prevent further contamination from resource development in this area.