GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 133-3
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


EYMOLD, William K.1, MILLER, Jodie A.2, SWANA, Kelley2, VENGOSH, Avner3, MURRAY, Ricky4, WHYTE, Colin5, HARKNESS, Jennifer S.6 and DARRAH, Thomas H.5, (1)School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, 125 S Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210, (2)Department of Earth Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa, (3)Duke University, Nicholas School of the Enviornment, 207A Old Chemistry Bldg, Durham, NC 27708, (4)Groundwater Africa, 54 Irene Avenue, Somerset West, Cape Town, 7130, South Africa, (5)School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, 275 Mendenhall Laboratory, 125 South Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210, (6)Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708; School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, 125 S Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210,

The production of unconventional shale gas and oil continues to increase throughout the US and abroad. Because of the environmental sensitivities of the water-restricted Karoo Basin located in South Africa, the South African government developed a plan for a team of domestic and international experts to evaluate the baseline water quality of the region prior to potential shale gas development. As part of the baseline water quality assessment, we analyzed water quality and water and gas geochemistry. Our analyses utilized a multi-tracer approach for evaluating baseline gas and salt chemistry within this ecologically sensitive region. Because one of the most common risks associated with shale gas development is stray gas contamination of groundwater, we focused the current contribution on our efforts to characterize the gas geochemistry of naturally hydrocarbon-gas-rich groundwaters from diverse locations throughout the Karoo Basin. The current study includes a comprehensive evaluation of major gas geochemistry (e.g., N2, Ar, CO2), hydrocarbon gas geochemistry (C1-C5), compound-specific stable isotopes of hydrocarbons and CO22H-CH4, δ13C-CH4, δ13C-C2H6, δ13C-CO2), noble gas geochemistry (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe), tritium-helium (3H-3He) age-dating, water chemistry (pH, Eh, δ2H-H2O, δ18O-H2O) and salt chemistry (e.g., Na, Ca, Cl, Br). Like studies from other areas across North America, we identify a significant positive correlation between the abundance of salts, elevated helium, higher levels of ethane, and measurable higher order aliphatic hydrocarbons in thermogenic methane that also displays more enriched values of δ13C-CH4. By comparison, we also identify and distinguish a cohort of helium-poor, biogenic methane with more negative values of δ2H-CH4, δ13C-CH4, and significantly higher values of C1/C2+ (i.e., lower levels of ethane and higher order aliphatic hydrocarbons). In conclusion, our multi-tracer approach allows us to constrain the plausible scenarios and geological histories of the hydrocarbon gas migration from hydrocarbon sources to shallow aquifers. This work further demonstrates the capacity to differentiate biogenic and thermogenic contributions in hydrocarbons within shallow aquifers that experience oxidation and molecular and isotopic fractionation of hydrocarbons.