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Groundwater ages and mixing in the Piceance Basin natural gas province, Colorado

November 1, 2013

Reliably identifying the effects of energy development on groundwater quality can be difficult because baseline assessments of water quality completed before the onset of energy development are rare and because interactions between hydrocarbon reservoirs and aquifers can be complex, involving both natural and human processes. Groundwater age and mixing data can strengthen interpretations of monitoring data from those areas by providing better understanding of the groundwater flow systems. Chemical, isotopic, and age tracers were used to characterize groundwater ages and mixing with deeper saline water in three areas of the Piceance Basin natural gas province. The data revealed a complex array of groundwater ages (<10 to >50,000 years) and mixing patterns in the basin that helped explain concentrations and sources of methane in groundwater. Age and mixing data also can strengthen the design of monitoring programs by providing information on time scales at which water quality changes in aquifers might be expected to occur. This information could be used to establish maximum allowable distances of monitoring wells from energy development activity and the appropriate duration of monitoring.