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December 20, 2023

RESTON, Va. — The USGS recently release an update to the National Produced Waters Geochemical Database, a database of chemical information for oil and gas wastewaters, also known as "produced waters" across the United States.

The new version, version 3.0, includes 23 new datasets focusing on high lithium brines, shale reservoirs, and samples from the Williston, Permian, Gulf Coast, Appalachian and California basins. Version 3.0 is now available on new Tableau viewer with extended capabilities to view, plot, and download data.

The USGS National Produced Waters Geochemical Database includes identification and location information for each sample of produced waters, as well as descriptions of the well the sample came from, the date the sample was taken, properties of the rock formations the waters were taken from, the physical properties of the water and analyses of the sample’s inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry and isotopes. 

Other updates in version 3.0 include the addition of associated spatial information for nearly all data and new variables that simplify and standardize the producing formation name and they type of oil and gas play. In addition, existing variables have been standardized, including those that describe the geologic basin, geologic age and reference information, and all chemistry in parts per million units have been converted to milligrams per liter. Minimally used variables were removed and multiple errors, including duplicate entries, were fixed. 

Image shows a screenshot of the USGS National Produced Waters Geochemical Database viewer, with colored circles marking the locations of the produced waters samples, with a key on the righthand side
A screenshot of the viewer for the USGS National Produced Waters Geochemical Database. 

Water naturally occurs in deep underground rock layers, including where oil and gas are trapped. This water can be extremely salty, even ten times saltier than the ocean, and can also contain organic compounds and radioactive elements like radium. When humans drill wells, such as oil and gas wells or geothermal energy wells, this groundwater can come to the surface. When it does, it is called produced water. 

Produced waters can also include the water that was used during certain types of oil and gas production like hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. The water is mixed with chemicals and injected at extremely high pressure into rock layers to create pathways for the oil and gas to get to the well so they can be pumped to the surface. The water frequently returns to the surface with the oil and gas mixed with the natural water in the target rock. 

Produced waters are often considered waste products and need to be disposed of properly. In some limited cases, the water is treated and then released into surface water. In most cases, though, the produced waters are reinjected back underground. However, there are times when the produced waters may spill or be released before treatment, which can have significant impacts on nearby ecosystems and communities. 

Produced waters can also have potential uses. Elements, like lithium, that become dissolved in the water while it is underground can potentially be recovered for  commercial uses. The treated produced waters can also be reused as fracking fluids. In limited cases, produced waters that are very low in salts and harmful chemicals can be used for irrigation. 

Thus, knowing the geochemistry of the produced waters is important for knowing what can and should be done with them. In addition, understanding the composition of these produced waters is important to help investigate the regional hydrogeology, the source of the water, the efficacy of water treatment and disposal plans, the potential economic benefits of mineral commodities in the fluids, and the safety of potential sources of drinking or agricultural water. The USGS National Produced Waters Geochemical Database serves this function. 

The USGS National Produced Waters Geochemical Database can be accessed here and the viewer can be accessed here. More information about USGS research involving produced waters can be found here. To stay up-to-date on USGS energy research, please visit our website, sign-up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter

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