Oil field spills reduce wetland productivity in the Williston Basin

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A new study by the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center and the NPS Greater Yellowstone Network has shown that contamination of wetlands by brine had negative effects on plant productivity and macroinvertebrate communities.  

An oil/brine spill in the Williston Basin.
An oil/brine spill in the Williston Basin.Public domain

The production of oil and gas in the Williston Basin results in the coproduction of large volumes of highly saline water (brine).  In the last 12 months, the North Dakota Department of health documented 1,180 spills of oil and/or brine.   In 2012 ten wetlands, ranging from uncontaminated to highly contaminated, were sampled with the results demonstrating that the above ground biomass of hardstem bulrush (a common wetland plant) and number of macroinvertebrate species decreased with increased brine contamination.   Wetlands in the Williston Basin are important habitat for nesting and breeding waterfowl with macroinvertebrates being a key food source; therefore, reduced biomass and macroinvertebrate richness could have negative effects on these important species.