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Geochemical and geophysical indicators of oil and gas wastewater can trace potential exposure pathways following releases to surface waters

October 14, 2020

Releases of oil and gas (OG) wastewaters can have complex effects on stream-water quality and downstream organisms, due to sediment-water interactions and groundwater/surface water exchange. Previously, elevated concentrations of sodium (Na), chloride (Cl), barium (Ba), strontium (Sr), and lithium (Li), and trace hydrocarbons were determined to be key markers of OG wastewater releases when combined with Sr and radium (Ra) isotopic compositions. Here, we assessed the persistence of an OG wastewater spill in a creek in North Dakota using a combination of geochemical measurements and modeling, hydrologic analysis, and geophysical investigations. OG wastewater comprised 0.1 to 0.3% of the stream-water compositions at downstream sites in February and June 2015 but could not be quantified in 2016 and 2017. However, OG-wastewater markers persisted in sediments and pore water for 2.5 years after the spill and up to 7.2-km downstream from the spill site. Concentrations of OG wastewater constituents were highly variable depending on the hydrologic conditions. Electromagnetic measurements indicated substantially higher electrical conductivity under the bank adjacent to a seep 7.2 km downstream from the spill site. Geomorphic investigations revealed mobilization of sediment is an important contaminant transport process. Labile Ba, Ra, Sr, and ammonium (NH4) concentrations extracted from sediments indicated sediments are a long-term reservoir of these constituents, both in the creek and on the floodplain. Using the drivers of ecological effects identified at this intensively studied site we identified 41 watersheds across the North Dakota landscape that may be subject to similar episodic inputs from OG wastewater spills. Effects of contaminants released to the environment during OG waste management activities remain poorly understood; however, analyses of Ra and Sr isotopic compositions, as well as trace inorganic and organic compound concentrations at these sites in pore-water provide insights into potentials for animal and human exposures well outside source-remediation zones.

Publication Year 2021
Title Geochemical and geophysical indicators of oil and gas wastewater can trace potential exposure pathways following releases to surface waters
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142909
Authors Isabelle M. Cozzarelli, Douglas B. Kent, Martin A. Briggs, Mark A Engle, Adam Benthem, Katherine Skalak, Adam Mumford, Jeanne B. Jaeschke, Aida Farag, John W. Lane, Denise M. Akob
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70216960
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division; WMA - Laboratory & Analytical Services Division