Mapping Methane Release from Fracking

[DA42 airplane instrument layout]The extraction of natural gas from shale deposits by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has moved to the forefront of the strategic energy debate because of its importance to the economy and its potential impact on the environment.

The key questions are:

  1. What is the magnitude of fugitive methane release from fracking? 

    Approach: Measure concentrations and fluxes of methane over key sites in situ
  2. How does the extent of fugitive release depend on topographical and geological features? 

    Approach: Using GPS and geological maps, correlate the flight path with the salient features of the ground below
  3. How does the extent of fugitive release depend on mining practices used? 

    Approach: Compare observations with mine depth and extent, bore diameter, fracking fluids used, and degree of horizontal drilling.
  4. Is the upwelling methane consistently found to be of thermogenic origin, as is typical of oil and gas stores? What component of upward flux is related to non-fracking sources?

    Approach: Collect methane samples for analysis of isotopologue signatures using the Andersons group's high-precision ICOS spectrometer