Jennie Harkness and co-authors receive Dalway J. Swaine award

August 7, 2018
Dr. Jennie Harkness and co-authors received the Dalway J. Swaine award

Dr. Jennie Harkness, graduate students Colin Whyte and Myles Moore, and Professor Tom Darrah from the School of Earth Sciences have received the prestigious Dalway J. Swaine Award from the Society for Organic Petrology. The award is presented to the authors of the paper judged to be the best for the year in coal and hydrocarbon source rock geochemistry. The paper, entitled “The geochemistry of naturally occurring methane and saline groundwater in an area of unconventional shale gas development,” was published last year in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta and highlighted in articles by NPR’s State Impact, Energy & Environment News, and Fox News. 

The study investigated the chemistry of private drinking water wells in West Virginia over a three-year period during which hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale was initiated. This study was the first to report a broadly integrated use of geochemical techniques, including isotope and noble gas tracers, in studying groundwater contamination before and after the installation and fracking of shale gas wells. The results reveal that saline, methane-rich water has naturally migrated over time into the shallow aquifers. While the study did not find any evidence for groundwater contamination from fracking during the first three years, it did present evidence that accidental spills of wastewater pose a threat to surface water quality in the region. In addition to establishing baseline groundwater quality in an area of unconventional natural gas production, the noble gas geochemistry provides exciting new insights into the subsurface gas geochemistry of the Northern Appalachian Basin.