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Widespread legacy brine contamination from oil production reduces survival of chorus frog larvae

October 24, 2017

Advances in drilling techniques have facilitated a rapid increase in hydrocarbon extraction from energy shales, including the Williston Basin in central North America. This area overlaps with the Prairie Pothole Region, a region densely populated with wetlands that provide numerous ecosystem services. Historical (legacy) disposal practices often released saline co-produced waters (brines) with high chloride concentrations, affecting wetland water quality directly or persisting in sediments. Despite the potential threat of brine contamination to aquatic habitats, there has been little research into its ecological effects. We capitalized on a gradient of legacy brine-contaminated wetlands in northeast Montana to conduct laboratory experiments to assess variation in survival of larval Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata) reared on sediments from 3 local wetlands and a control source. To help provide environmental context for the experiment, we also measured chloride concentrations in 6 brine-contaminated wetlands in our study area, including the 2 contaminated sites used for sediment exposures. Survival of frog larvae during 46- and 55-day experiments differed by up to 88% among sediment sources (Site Model) and was negatively correlated with potential chloride exposure (Chloride Model). Five of the 6 contaminated wetlands exceeded the U.S. EPA acute benchmark for chloride in freshwater (860 mg/L) and all exceeded the chronic benchmark (230 mg/L). However, the Wetland Site model explained more variation in survival than the Chloride Model, suggesting that chloride concentration alone does not fully reflect the threat of contamination to aquatic species. Because the profiles of brine-contaminated sediments are complex, further surveys and experiments are needed across a broad range of conditions, especially where restoration or remediation actions have reduced brine-contamination. Information provided by this study can help quantify potential ecological threats and help land managers prioritize conservation strategies as part of responsible and sustainable energy development.

Publication Year 2017
Title Widespread legacy brine contamination from oil production reduces survival of chorus frog larvae
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.08.070
Authors Blake R. Hossack, Holly J. Puglis, William A. Battaglin, Chauncey W. Anderson, R. Ken Honeycutt, Kelly L. Smalling
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Pollution
Index ID 70192262
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Oregon Water Science Center