Groundwaters in Northeastern Pennsylvania near intense hydraulic fracturing activities exhibit few organic chemical impacts†
Horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing (HDHF) relies on the use of anthropogenic organic chemicals in proximity to residential areas, raising concern for groundwater contamination. Here, we extensively characterized organic contaminants in 94 domestic groundwater sites in Northeastern Pennsylvania after ten years of activity in the region. All analyzed volatile and semi-volatile compounds were below recommended United States Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant levels, and integrated concentrations across two volatility ranges, gasoline range organic compounds (GRO) and diesel range organic compounds (DRO), were low (0.13 ± 0.06 to 2.2 ± 0.7 ppb and 5.2–101.6 ppb, respectively). Following dozens of correlation analyses with distance-to-well metrics and inter-chemical indicator correlations, no statistically significant correlations were found except: (1) GRO levels were higher within 2 km of violations and (2) correlation between DRO and a few inorganic species (e.g., Ba and Sr) and methane. The correlation of DRO with inorganic species suggests a potential high salinity source, whereas elevated GRO may result from nearby safety violations. Highest-concentration DRO samples contained bis-2-ethylhexyl phthalate and N,N-dimethyltetradecylamine. Nevertheless, the overall low rate of contamination for the analytes could be explained by a spatially-resolved hydrogeologic model, where estimated transport distances from gas wells over the relevant timeframes were short relative to the distance to the nearest groundwater wells. Together, the observations and modeled results suggest a low probability of systematic groundwater organic contamination in the region.
- This article is part of the themed collections: Recent Open Access Articles and Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts Recent HOT Articles