Waters co-produced with hydrocarbons in the Appalachian Basin are of notably poor quality (concentrations of total dissolved solids (TDS) and total radium up to and exceeding 300,000 mg/L and 10,000 pCi/L, respectively). Since 2008, a rapid increase in Marcellus Shale gas production has led to a commensurate rise in associated wastewater while generation of produced water from conventional oil and gas activities has continued. In this study, we assess whether disposal practices from treatment of produced waters from both shale gas and conventional operations in Pennsylvania could result in the accumulation of associated alkali earth elements. The results from our 5 study sites indicate that there was no increase in concentrations of total Ra (Ra-226) and extractable Ba, Ca, Na, or Sr in fluvial sediments downstream of the discharge outfalls (p > 0.05) of publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and centralized waste treatment facilities (CWTs). However, the use of road spreading of brines from conventional oil and gas wells for deicing resulted in accumulation of Ra-226 (1.2 ×), and extractable Sr (3.0 ×), Ca (5.3 ×), and Na (6.2 ×) in soil and sediment proximal to roads (p < 0.05). Although this study is an important initial assessment of the impacts of these disposal practices, more work is needed to consider the environmental consequences of produced waters management.
Additional publication details
Surface disposal of produced waters in western and southwestern Pennsylvania: potential for accumulation of alkali-earth elements in sediments