Elucidating Environmental Fingerprinting Mechanisms of Unconventional Gas Development through Hydrocarbon Analysis

Paulina K. Piotrowski, Benedikt A. Weggler, David A. Yoxtheimer, Christina N. Kelly, Erica Barth-Naftilan, James E. Saiers, Frank L. Dorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Hydraulic fracturing is an increasingly common technique for the extraction of natural gas entrapped in shale formations. This technique has been highly criticized due to the possibility of environmental contamination, underscoring the need for method development to identify chemical factors that could be utilized in point-source identification of environmental contamination events. Here, we utilize comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC × GC) coupled to high-resolution time-of-flight (HRT) mass spectrometry, which offers a unique instrumental combination allowing for petroleomics hydrocarbon fingerprinting. Four flowback fluids from Marcellus shale gas wells in geographic proximity were analyzed for differentiating factors that could be exploited in environmental forensics investigations of shale gas impacts. Kendrick mass defect (KMD) plots of these flowback fluids illustrated well-to-well differences in heteroatomic substituted hydrocarbons, while GC × GC separations showed variance in cyclic hydrocarbons and polyaromatic hydrocarbons among the four wells. Additionally, generating plots that combine GC × GC separation with KMD established a novel data-rich visualization technique that further differentiated the samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5466-5473
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 17 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Analytical Chemistry


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