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Oil and gas wastewater components alter streambed microbial community structure and function

November 29, 2021

The widespread application of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies expanded oil and gas (OG) development to previously inaccessible resources. A single OG well can generate millions of liters of wastewater, which is a mixture of brine produced from the fractured formations and injected hydraulic fracturing fluids (HFFs). With thousands of wells completed each year, safe management of OG wastewaters has become a major challenge to the industry and regulators. OG wastewaters are commonly disposed of by underground injection, and previous research showed that surface activities at an Underground Injection Control (UIC) facility in West Virginia affected stream biogeochemistry and sediment microbial communities immediately downstream from the facility. Because microbially driven processes can control the fate and transport of organic and inorganic components of OG wastewater, we designed a series of aerobic microcosm experiments to assess the influence of high total dissolved solids (TDS) and two common HFF additives—the biocide 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide (DBNPA) and ethylene glycol (an anti-scaling additive)—on microbial community structure and function. Microcosms were constructed with sediment collected upstream (background) or downstream (impacted) from the UIC facility in West Virginia. Exposure to elevated TDS resulted in a significant decrease in aerobic respiration, and microbial community analysis following incubation indicated that elevated TDS could be linked to the majority of change in community structure. Over the course of the incubation, the sediment layer in the microcosms became anoxic, and addition of DBNPA was observed to inhibit iron reduction. In general, disruptions to microbial community structure and function were more pronounced in upstream and background sediment microcosms than in impacted sediment microcosms. These results suggest that the microbial community in impacted sediments had adapted following exposure to OG wastewater releases from the site. Our findings demonstrate the potential for releases from an OG wastewater disposal facility to alter microbial communities and biogeochemical processes. We anticipate that these studies will aid in the development of useful models for the potential impact of UIC disposal facilities on adjoining surface water and shallow groundwater.