Linking otolith microchemistry and surface water contamination from natural gas mining

Environmental Pollution
By: , and 



Unconventional natural gas drilling and the use of hydraulic fracturing technology have expanded rapidly in North America. This expansion has raised concerns of surface water contamination by way of spills and leaks, which may be sporadic, small, and therefore difficult to detect. Here we explore the use of otolith microchemistry as a tool for monitoring surface water contamination from generated waters (GW) of unconventional natural gas drilling. We exposed Brook Trout in the laboratory to three volumetric concentrations of surrogate generated water (SGW) representing GW on day five of drilling. Transects across otolith cross-sections were analyzed for a suite of elements by LA-ICP-MS. Brook Trout exposed to a 0.01–1.0% concentration of SGW for 2, 15, and 30 days showed a significant (p < 0.05) relationship of increasing Sr and Ba concentrations in all but one treatment. Analyses indicate lesser concentrations than used in this experiment could be detectable in surface waters and provide support for the use of this technique in natural habitats. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of how trace elements in fish otoliths may be used to monitor for surface water contamination from GW.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Linking otolith microchemistry and surface water contamination from natural gas mining
Series title Environmental Pollution
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.04.026
Volume 240
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Leetown Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 457
Last page 465
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