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Preliminary geologic framework developed for a proposed environmental monitoring study of a deep, unconventional Marcellus Shale drill site, Washington County, Pennsylvania

June 8, 2018


In the fall of 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was afforded an opportunity to participate in an environmental monitoring study of the potential impacts of a deep, unconventional Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing site. The drill site of the prospective case study is the “Range Resources MCC Partners L.P. Units 1-5H” location (also referred to as the “RR–MCC” drill site), located in Washington County, southwestern Pennsylvania. Specifically, the USGS was approached to provide a geologic framework that would (1) provide geologic parameters for the proposed area of a localized groundwater circulation model, and (2) provide potential information for the siting of both shallow and deep groundwater monitoring wells located near the drill pad and the deviated drill legs.

The lead organization of the prospective case study of the RR–MCC drill site was the Groundwater and Ecosystems Restoration Division (GWERD) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Aside from the USGS, additional partners/participants were to include the Department of Energy, the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the developer Range Resources LLC. During the initial cooperative phase, GWERD, with input from the participating agencies, drafted a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) that proposed much of the objectives, tasks, sampling and analytical procedures, and documentation of results.

Later in 2012, the proposed cooperative agreement between the aforementioned partners and the associated land owners for a monitoring program at the drill site was not executed. Therefore, the prospective case study of the RR–MCC site was terminated and no installation of groundwater monitoring wells nor the collection of nearby soil, stream sediment, and surface-water samples were made.

Prior to the completion of the QAPP and termination of the perspective case study the geologic framework was rapidly conducted and nearly completed. This was done for three principal reasons. First, there was an immediate need to know the distribution of the relatively undisturbed surface to near-surface bedrock geology and unconsolidated materials for the collection of baseline surface data prior to drill site development (drill pad access road, drill pad leveling) and later during monitoring associated with well drilling, well development, and well production. Second, it was necessary to know the bedrock geology to support the siting of: (1) multiple shallow groundwater monitoring wells (possibly as many as four) surrounding and located immediately adjacent to the drill pad, and (2) deep groundwater monitoring wells (possibly two) located at distance from the drill pad with one possibly being sited along one of the deviated production drill legs. Lastly, the framework geology would provide the lateral extent, thickness, lithology, and expected discontinuities of geologic units (to be parsed or grouped as hydrostratigraphic units) and regional structure trends as inputs into the groundwater model.

This report provides the methodology of geologic data accumulation and aggregation, and its integration into a geographic information system (GIS) based program. The GIS program will allow multiple data to be exported in various formats (shapefiles [.shp], database files [.dbf], and Keyhole Markup Language files [.KML]) for use in surface and subsurface geologic site characterization, for sampling strategies, and for inputs for groundwater modeling.

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