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Using Methane Concentrations in Streams to Investigate for Potential Leakage of Oil and Gas Wells in Pennsylvania

Liza Brazil, Susan L. Brantley, Jennifer Z. Williams, Seth Pelepko, Stew Beattie, Kyle Homman, and Andrew Nyblade
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: Jul 5, 2016


The purpose of this exercise is to guide students through the initial stages of a hypothetical water supply complaint investigation for 3 scenarios where methane has been detected in surface water in PA. This activity uses data accessible through the CUAHSI database (Shale Network (2015)) at three stream locations, and introduces three different potential sources of the observed in-stream methane. The data were collected by personnel from Penn State, the U.S. Geological Survey, and volunteers.

Intended Audience

mid-level undergraduates in hydrology

Conceptual Learning Outcomes

Students will learn about three sources of methane
Students will learn critical thinking skills, data analysis skills, and synthesis of ideas skills

Practical Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to use HydroClient and PA DEP Oil and Gas Mapping tool

Student Time Required

2 hours

Supporting Reference Documents and Files


Students will first investigate a low methane concentration measured in Southwest PA in Washington County. Students will find the analyses for samples in this area in HydroClient, then you will look up nearby well locations and records using the PA Oil and Gas Mapping Tool and the Exploration and Development Web Information Network (EDWIN), respectively, to begin to assess whether any of the streams may be contaminated by gas or oil wells. Students will also learn something about possible methane sources.
These steps will be repeated for methane samples taken from Black Moshannon Lake (Centre County) and Sugar Run (Lycoming County) to demonstrate how one might check for multiple potential sources of methane contributions to surface waters.

Steps within this lesson


Students will answer a few sets of questions as they move through the exercise.