Salts are frequently a major constituent of waste waters produced during oil and gas production. These produced waters or brines must be treated and/or disposed and provide a daily challenge for operators and resource managers. Some elements of salts are regulated with water quality criteria established for the protection of aquatic wildlife, e.g. chloride (Cl−), which has an acute standard of 860 mg/L and a chronic standard of 230 mg/L. However, data for establishing such standards has only recently been studied for other components of produced water, such as bicarbonate (HCO3−), which has acute median lethal concentrations (LC50s) ranging from 699 to > 8000 mg/L and effects on chronic toxicity from 430 to 657 mg/L. While Cl− is an ion of considerable importance in multiple geographical regions, knowledge about the effects of hardness (calcium and magnesium) on its toxicity and about mechanisms of toxicity is not well understood. A multiple-approach design that combines studies of both individuals and populations, conducted both in the laboratory and the field, was used to study toxic effects of bicarbonate (as NaHCO3). This approach allowed interpretations about mechanisms related to growth effects at the individual level that could affect populations in the wild. However, additional mechanistic data for HCO3−, related to the interactions of calcium (Ca2 +) precipitation at the microenvironment of the gill would dramatically increase the scientific knowledge base about how NaHCO3 might affect aquatic life. Studies of the effects of mixtures of multiple salts present in produced waters and more chronic effect studies would give a better picture of the overall potential toxicity of these ions. Organic constituents in hydraulic fracturing fluids, flowback waters, etc. are a concern because of their carcinogenic properties and this paper is not meant to minimize the importance of maintaining vigilance with respect to potential organic contamination.
Additional publication details
A review of environmental impacts of salts from produced waters on aquatic resources