Tools play a significant role in scientific discovery. From clean data sets to reliable field-sampling equipment, how we go about our jobs impacts our results, and more specifically, our success. One challenge in studying the environmental and health impacts of oil and gas development has been collecting accurate pre- and post-drill sample data.
Methane is often present naturally in domestic water wells, but usually at very low concentrations. However, at high concentrations it becomes explosive, creating a serious public-safety hazard. So it’s in the public interest for us — companies, scientists, public utilities — to determine whether oil and gas development has worsened the situation for nearby wells. Research results thus far have differed — some studies found increases in methane in drinking-water wells near oil and gas drilling sites and other found no such increases.
When looking at these studies, it’s important to rule out sampling methodology as a source of variation. That’s why a research team including the Colorado School of Mines, PSE, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which funded the study, set out to find a tool that would improve sampling methodology. In our study, published online earlier this month in Environmental Engineering Science, we demonstrate that our gas-water equilibrator, a device that uses equilibrium between gas and water to take a measurement, is comparable to fixed laboratory analysis.