Canadian researchers at the University of Calgary, the University of Guelph and the University of British Columbia have published an article in Nature, showing that methane can travel much farther than previously believed by not only escaping into the atmosphere, but also infiltrating groundwater and altering its chemical composition.
While half the greenhouse gas went up to pollute the air, the researchers have revealed that the other half remained in the aquifer and, pushed by its natural buoyancy to infiltrate groundwater, traveled through it much further, potentially reaching farmland and homes.
The team injected methane into an aquifer that they monitored over eight months, finding that it dissolved and reached water sources for humans and animals, where it altered the taste of water while also, more significantly, created the potential for explosions of accumulated pockets.
Methane is a greenhouse gas considered to be at least 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, and it is now evident that pollution created by methane is more far-reaching than expected. With modern drilling, energy wells have become common enough, and not all of them are properly sealed or have entirely withstood the test of time. Leaks from energy wells are long-lasting, extremely hazardous and very difficult to detect.
Detection should, however, be the first priority, since methane leaks, once they occurred, are not reversible. Thus, all areas where natural gas and oil is drilled should undergo inspections and include field monitoring programs to ensure that chemical pollution of the soil and groundwater is prevented.