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Estimation of methane concentrations and loads in groundwater discharge to Sugar Run, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania

July 28, 2014

A stream-sampling study was conducted to estimate methane concentrations and loads in groundwater discharge to a small stream in an active shale-gas development area of northeastern Pennsylvania. Grab samples collected from 15 streams in Bradford, Lycoming, Susquehanna, and Tioga Counties, Pa., during a reconnaissance survey in May and June 2013 contained dissolved methane concentrations ranging from less than the minimum reporting limit (1.0) to 68.5 micrograms per liter (µg/L). The stream-reach mass-balance method of estimating concentrations and loads of methane in groundwater discharge was applied to a 4-kilometer (km) reach of Sugar Run in Lycoming County, one of the four streams with methane concentrations greater than or equal to 5 µg/L. Three synoptic surveys of stream discharge and methane concentrations were conducted during base-flow periods in May, June, and November 2013. Stream discharge at the lower end of the reach was about 0.10, 0.04, and 0.02 cubic meters per second, respectively, and peak stream methane concentrations were about 20, 67, and 29 µg/L. In order to refine estimated amounts of groundwater discharge and locations where groundwater with methane discharges to the stream, the lower part of the study reach was targeted more precisely during the successive studies, with approximate spacing between stream sampling sites of 800 meters (m), 400 m, and 200 m, in May, June, and November, respectively. Samples collected from shallow piezometers and a seep near the location of the peak methane concentration measured in streamwater had groundwater methane concentrations of 2,300 to 4,600 µg/L. These field data, combined with one-dimensional stream-methane transport modeling, indicate groundwater methane loads of 1.8 ±0.8, 0.7 ±0.3, and 0.7 ±0.2 kilograms per day, respectively, discharging to Sugar Run. Estimated groundwater methane concentrations, based on the transport modeling, ranged from 100 to 3,200 µg/L. Although total methane load and the uncertainty in calculated loads both decreased with lower streamflow conditions and finer-resolution sampling in June and November, the higher loads during May could indicate seasonal variability in base flow. This is consistent with flowmeter measurements indicating that there was less inflow occurring at lower streamflow conditions during June and November.

Publication Year 2014
Title Estimation of methane concentrations and loads in groundwater discharge to Sugar Run, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
DOI 10.3133/ofr20141126
Authors Victor M. Heilweil, Dennis W. Risser, Randall W. Conger, Paul L. Grieve, Scott A. Hynek
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2014-1126
Index ID ofr20141126
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pennsylvania Water Science Center