November 28, 2018

Tracing environmental impacts associated with hydrocarbon production with novel geochemical techniques


With recent government green light for Lancashire fracking, concerns have arisen over the potential environmental impacts associated with drilling and shale gas production. One issue is whether fracking would introduce elevated hydrocarbon gas levels in drinking-water wells in the area of fracking. Several studies suggest that shale gas drilling leads to fugitive gas contamination in a subset of drinking-water wells near drill sites, while others argue that methane is natural and unrelated to shale gas development. Much of this debate results from a lack of geochemical tracers that can constrain simultaneously the source, timing, and mechanism of hydrocarbon migration into shallow aquifers. This project aims to develop novel geochemical tools to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic sources of hydrocarbons in shallow aquifers and determine the source and mechanisms of anthropogenic gas contamination. Traditionally, fugitive gas investigations have used the stable carbon (13C/12C) and hydrogen (D/H) isotopic composition of methane to determine the source of gas in shallow aquifer, but methane from different origins often yield overlapping isotopic compositions. Noble gases (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe) provide a new and informative set of tracers to complement hydrocarbon geochemistry. Because they are chemically inert and from three clearly different sources. They have long been proven as a versatile tool in the investigation of source and migration processes in hydrocarbon systems.

This project will utilize study sites and samples provided by industrial partners in China. While a significant portion of this project will be lab based and involve state of the art mass spectrometry at Lancaster Environment Centre, the PhD student will have chances to work in other world leading labs in China. The student will also be organizing sample collection trips to the fields and liaise with the collaborators. Training will be provided in lab techniques, fieldwork and geochemical modelling.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 or equivalent in subjects such as physics, chemistry, geology, natural sciences, environmental sciences, or similar.

For further details please contact Dr. Zheng Zhou: