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Illegal dumping of oil and gas wastewater alters arid soil microbial communities

January 31, 2024
The Permian Basin, underlying southeast New Mexico and west Texas, is one of the most productive oil and gas (OG) provinces in the United States. Oil and gas production yields large volumes of wastewater with complex chemistries, and the environmental health risks posed by these OG wastewaters on sensitive desert ecosystems are poorly understood. Starting in November 2017, 39 illegal dumps, as defined by federal and state regulations, of OG wastewater were identified in southeastern New Mexico, releasing ~600,000 L of fluid onto dryland soils. To evaluate the impacts of these releases, we analyzed changes in soil geochemistry and microbial community composition by comparing soils from within OG wastewater dump-affected samples to unaffected zones. We observed significant changes in soil geochemistry for all dump-affected compared with control samples, reflecting the residual salts and hydrocarbons from the OG-wastewater release (e.g., enriched in sodium, chloride, and bromide). Microbial community structure significantly (P < 0.01) differed between dump and control zones, with soils from dump areas having significantly (P < 0.01) lower alpha diversity and differences in phylogenetic composition. Dump-affected soil samples showed an increase in halophilic and halotolerant taxa, including members of the Marinobacteraceae, Halomonadaceae, and Halobacteroidaceae, suggesting that the high salinity of the dumped OG wastewater was exerting a strong selective pressure on microbial community structure. Taxa with high similarity to known hydrocarbon-degrading organisms were also detected in the dump-affected soil samples. Overall, this study demonstrates the potential for OG wastewater exposure to change the geochemistry and microbial community dynamics of arid soils.
Publication Year 2024
Title Illegal dumping of oil and gas wastewater alters arid soil microbial communities
DOI 10.1128/aem.01490-23
Authors Mitra Kashani, Mark A Engle, Douglas B. Kent, Terry G. Gregston, Isabelle M. Cozzarelli, Adam Mumford, Matthew S. Varonka, Cassandra Rashan Harris, Denise M. Akob
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Index ID 70251683
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center