An ecosystem approach to assessing unconventional oil and gas impacts in aquatic ecosystems

Science Center Objects

The development of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) technology promises economic, societal and national security benefits.  However, technological developments in this field have rapidly outpaced scientific studies on potential environmental effects.  The effects of accidental UOG-related spills on environmental health are not adequately characterized, often occur in already ecological sensitive locations (e.g. headwater streams, areas supporting threatened species), and may involve multiple aspects of the stream ecosystem. 

USGS researchers, along with collaborators, have been conducting a large-scale outdoor raceway study to assess the acute and chronic effects of UOG waste on multiple compartments of the headwater ecosystems.  These studies range in biological scale and include assessments of multiple endpoints including gene expression, fish health, microbial activity, nutrient dynamics, and trophic interactions.

Video:  Northern Appalachian Research Laboratory stream raceway:

Video information:  The USGS Northern Appalachian Research Laboratory in Wellsboro, PA is home to a unique research facility:  replicated outdoor stream raceways, ideal for conducting a variety of large-scale ecological study.   Video Credit:  Daniel Spooner


Stream raceway

USGS researchers have simulated replicated headwater streams in outdoor raceways to evaluate the ecological effects of UOG waste spills. 

(Credit: Daniel Spooner, USGS Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)

Collecting UOG waste

USGS researchers use an assembly line strategy to collect as much data as possible.  Here, researchers are evaluating the effects of UOG waste on brook trout disease and body condition. 

(Credit: Daniel Spooner, USGS Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)

Measuring fish

USGS researchers evaluated the role of UOG waste on brook trout health, including growth rate.  Here, Barbara White is measuring a juvenile brook trout used in this study. 

(Credit: Daniel Spooner, USGS Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)