Anna M. Martini , Amherst College
Preliminary geochemical results for alkalinity and major anion concentrations imply that the hypothesized geochemical gradient was successfully captured both geographically and vertically in the sampling campaign. The range of alkalinity concentrations (10.6-33.0 meq/L) implies that the samples bracket the inferred sulfate reduction-methanogenesis boundary. Likewise, the large range of carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) of dissolved inorganic carbon (-13.2 to 17.5 per mil) also encompass anticipated values for the progressive depletion of sulfate and generation of methane. Many of the producing gas wells exhibit sulfate concentrations below instrumental detection (<0.5 mg/L). However, we also documented producing CBM wells exhibiting detectable sulfate, implying that the onset of microbial sulfate production during mixing of shallow groundwater into the coal bed could preclude subsurface microbial methanogenesis and thus induce CBM production declines. In addition to these clearly methanogenic conditions observed in production wells, we collected samples from monitoring wells too shallow and high in sulfate to be methanogenic. These provide a valuable point of comparison for understanding chemical or isotopic fingerprints of sulfate reduction vs. methanogenesis and interpreting microbiological characterization being conducted by colleagues at USGS and Montana State University. As with the results of the transect sampling, vertical sampling of three nested USGS monitoring wells also represents a gradient between high-sulfate (>1000 mg/L), nonmethanogenic waters interacting with coal in the shallow well, to apparently methane-rich and sulfate-free waters in the two deepest wells.
Additional analyses are pending. These include major and trace cation (metals) analysis, gas composition and isotope ratios, water mixing indicators (strontium and boron isotopes), and analysis of acetate, an important intermediate product in one methanogenesis pathway.
An undergraduate student and my lab manager have been in change of analyzing the geochemistries of the waters collected. The undergraduate will likely go into the field for the next (and last) round of sampling this spring.