Quantifying atmospheric reactive nitrogen concentrations, dry deposition, and isotope dynamics surrounding a Marcellus Shale well pad

Justin G. Coughlin, Emily M. Elliott, Lucy A. Rose, Natalie J. Pekney, Matthew Reeder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Unconventional natural gas (UNG) extraction activities have become important contributors to regional NOx emissions inventories. Currently, there is a knowledge gap in the amount of total N deposition surrounding well pads undergoing UNG extraction despite the fact that some areas with extensive natural gas extraction activity are already in exceedance of nitrogen critical loads. In this study, we measured the magnitude of total dry N deposition from NO2, HNO3, and NH3 attributable to the development of two UNG wells at a Marcellus Shale well pad study site. This study documents concentrations, deposition fluxes, and isotope values of NO2, HNO3, O3, and NH3 up- and down-wind along a 750-m well pad passive sampling transect across a 16-acre well pad containing two unconventional wells during all phases of development and extraction comprising fifteen distinct sampling periods. An access road transect was also utilized to explore reactive N dynamics in a near-road environment on the well pad where NO2 concentration and isotope dynamics were highly correlated with daily traffic count (r2 = 0.78–0.88, p < 0.01). An onsite chemiluminescent NO2 source apportionment model was compared against δ15N–NO2 and δ18O–NO2 source apportionment models (r2 = 0.57 and 0.82 respectively), demonstrating the possible utility of δ18O–NO2 as a source apportionment tool in near-source environments. In addition, the δ15N–NO2 source apportionment method compared well against a background-subtraction method (slope = 0.82, r2 = 0.88, p < 0.001) during non-wintertime conditions and was used to find N loadings directly attributable to well pad activities. In total, the total N deposition across the transect, attributable to well pad activities, utilizing industry's best management practices, ranged from 0.16 to 0.55 kg N ha−1 yr−1. This magnitude of well pad attributable N deposition is high enough to result in exceedances of nitrogen critical loads in areas with high well count densities and high baseline N deposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117196
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Feb 15 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Atmospheric chemistry
  • Marcellus shale
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Reactive nitrogen
  • Stable isotope


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