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Analysis of water use associated with hydraulic fracturing and determination of baseline water quality in watersheds within the shale play of eastern Ohio, 2021–23

July 3, 2024

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, performed a two-part study to (1) assess water use and temporal trends and changes in streamflow, and to (2) characterize 2021–23 baseline water quality, as they relate to oil and gas extraction activities in selected eastern Ohio watersheds. Between calendar years 2010 and 2019, hydraulic fracturing water withdrawals totaling about 27,168 million gallons were reported at 643 locations in Ohio. In 2021, wells developed with hydraulic fracturing were the source of most of the oil and gas produced in Ohio.

Daily streamflow time-series data from seven study gages and two reference gages were used to assess temporal trends and changes in streamflow. The study gages were in basins with reported water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing. The reference gages, which have long periods of record and were subject to minimal streamflow regulation, were in nearby basins with no hydraulic fracturing water withdrawals.

Trend slopes for the period of record annual minimum and median daily streamflows and for annual daily streamflow nonexceedance probabilities less than 0.9 were all uniformly positive at the study and reference gages. This trend indicates a consistently increasing pattern over the periods of record, except for high flows. In addition, analyses of annual streamflow statistics showed no general indication that low flows or extreme low flows at the reference or study gages have lowered, become more frequent, or lengthened in duration since 2010, when records for hydraulic fracturing water withdrawals began in Ohio. In fact, in almost all cases, the opposite was indicated.

Nonexceedance percentiles of daily streamflows were compared between the full and pre-2012 periods of record for reference and study gages. The streamflows associated with nonexceedance percentiles in the lower quartile of daily streamflows determined for the full period of record were larger than or equal to those determined for the pre-2012 period of record for all study and reference gages. This indicates that low flows did not decrease during the post-2011 period of record when water was withdrawn for hydraulic fracturing.

Water-quality data were collected eight times at each of eight sampling sites (six of which were colocated with the study gages). Sampling was done during a variety of flow conditions to assess baseline water quality. In 2021, the 8 sampling sites had drainage basins that were wholly or partially within 7 of the 10 most active counties in Ohio for oil and gas development. As part of the record of baseline conditions, water-quality data were used to assess (1) water types based on major-ion chemistry; (2) sources of salinity to streams; (3) exceedances of aquatic life use criteria; and (4) the correlations between water chemistry and drainage-basin characteristics, such as density of oil and gas wells, density of wastewater treatment plants, or the percentage of different types of land cover (agriculture, developed, forest).

Seven of the water-quality sampling sites were designated as coal-mine impacted based on criteria developed for assessing mine-drainage impacts in Ohio. Mine drainage from historical coal mining in the region likely affected the quality of these streams and complicated the use of some constituents typically used as indicators of oil and gas influence. Based on major-ion chemistry, three main types of water were in the study area―sulfate (three sites), calcium-bicarbonate (one site), and mixed bicarbonate-chloride (four sites) type waters. One site had samples with a higher proportion of sodium and chloride ions than other stream samples, indicating potential contamination with oil-field brine or road salt. Binary mixing curves revealed that 11 samples from 4 of the sampling sites likely contained a component of brine. The results of the baseline assessment of surface-water quality in the study area showed no exceedances of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency aquatic life use criteria. Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients indicated no significant positive correlations with the density of vertical or horizontal oil and gas wells.

Publication Year 2024
Title Analysis of water use associated with hydraulic fracturing and determination of baseline water quality in watersheds within the shale play of eastern Ohio, 2021–23
DOI 10.3133/sir20245045
Authors S. Alex Covert, G.F. Koltun
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2024-5045
Index ID sir20245045
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center