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Natural geological seepage of hydrocarbon gas in the Appalachian Basin and Midwest USA in relation to shale tectonic fracturing and past industrial hydrocarbon production

  • Schimmelmann, Arndt
  • Ensminger, Scott A.
  • Drobniak, Agnieszka
  • Mastalerz, Maria
  • Etiope, Giuseppe
  • Jacobi, Robert D.
  • Frankenberg, Christian
Publication Date
Dec 10, 2018
Caltech Authors


Geological hydrocarbon gas seepage is a major global source of atmospheric methane, ethane and propane as greenhouse gases and photochemical pollutants. Natural gas seepage is generally related to faults and associated fracture intensification domains that provide conduits for natural gas from reservoir rocks to migrate upward and enter the atmosphere. In this study, we compare the case of intense gas seepage stemming directly from source rocks, mostly organic-rich fractured black shales in western New York State (NYS) versus areas with rare seepage in the more southern regions of the Appalachian Basin and the Midwest USA. In addition to thermogenic methane, western NYS shale gas seeps emit ethane and propane with C_(2+3) gas concentrations reaching up to 35 vol%. Fractures in NYS developed, reactivated and maintained permeability for gas as a result of Quaternary glaciation and post-glacial basin uplift. In contrast, the Appalachian regions farther south and the southern Midwest regions experienced less glacial loading and unloading than in NYS, resulting in less recent natural fracturing, as witnessed by the rarity of seepage on surface outcrops and in caves overlying gas-bearing shales and coals. The historical literature suggests that early western NYS drilling and production of oil and gas diminished shale gas pressure and resulted in declining gas seepage rates. Our survey documented 12 active western NYS natural gas seeps, whereas >32 seeps have been reported or documented since the 17th century. Preliminary tests showed that SCIAMACHY satellite data did not detect atmospheric methane anomalies over western NYS seeps.

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