Geochemical and Isotopic Variations in Shallow Groundwater in Areas of the Fayetteville Shale Development, North-Central Arkansas
The combined technological development of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has enabled the extraction of hydrocarbons from unconventional sources, such as organic-rich shales, and is reshaping the energy landscape of the USA (Kargbo et al., 2010 and Kerr, 2010). Unconventional natural gas currently supplies ~20% of US domestic gas production and is projected to provide ~50% by 2035 (USEIA, 2010). Therefore, ensuring that unconventional natural gas resource development results in the minimal possible negative environmental impacts is vital, not only for domestic production within the USA, but also for establishing guidance for worldwide development of shale gas resources. Recent work in the
Marcellus Shale basin demonstrated a relationship between CH4 concentrations in shallow groundwater and proximity of drinking water wells to shale-gas drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania, suggesting contamination of shallow groundwater by stray gas (Osborn et al., 2011a). In addition, a previous study has shown evidence for natural pathways from deep formations to shallow aquifers in northeastern Pennsylvania that may allow leakage of gas or brine, and might pose a potential threat to groundwater in areas of shale gas extraction (Warner et al., 2012). While previous studies have focused on the Pennsylvania and New York portion of the northern Appalachian Basin, many other shale-gas basins currently are being developed that have not been examined for potential effects on water quality. One of the critical aspects of potential contamination of shallow aquifers in areas with shale-gas development is the hydraulic connectivity between shale and other deep formations and overlying shallow drinking water aquifers. Here the quality and geochemistry of shallow groundwater directly overlying the Fayetteville Shale (FS) in north-central Arkansas is investigated. The Fayetteville Shale is an unconventional natural gas reservoir with an estimated total production of 906 billion m3 (USEIA, 2011). Since 2004, approximately 4000 shale-gas wells have been drilled there, including both vertical wells and, more recently, horizontal wells.