Get access

Tracing Coalbed Natural Gas–Coproduced Water Using Stable Isotopes of Carbon


Department of Renewable Resources, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071; (307) 766-5021; fax: (307) 766-6403;


Recovery of hydrocarbons commonly is associated with coproduction of water. This water may be put to beneficial use or may be reinjected into subsurface aquifers. In either case, it would be helpful to establish a fingerprint for that coproduced water so that it may be tracked following discharge on the surface or reintroduction to geologic reservoirs. This study explores the potential of using δ13C of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) of coalbed natural gas (CBNG)–coproduced water as a fingerprint of its origin and to trace its fate once it is disposed on the surface. Our initial results for water samples coproduced with CBNG from the Powder River Basin show that this water has strongly positive δ13CDIC (12‰ to 22‰) that is readily distinguished from the negative δ13C of most surface and ground water (−8‰ to −11‰). Furthermore, the DIC concentrations in coproduced water samples are also high (more than 100 mg C/L) compared to the 20 to 50 mg C/L in ambient surface and ground water of the region. The distinctively high δ13C and DIC concentrations allow us to identify surface and ground water that have incorporated CBNG-coproduced water. Accordingly, we suggest that the δ13CDIC and DIC concentrations of water can be used for long-term monitoring of infiltration of CBNG-coproduced water into ground water and streams. Our results also show that the δ13CDIC of CBNG-coproduced water from two different coal zones are distinct leading to the possibility of using δ13CDIC to distinguish water produced from different coal zones.

Get access to the full text of this article