Chemical properties of ground water and their corrosion and encrustation effects on wells

Professional Paper 498-D

Prepared in cooperation with the Governments of Nigeria, the United Arab Republic, and West Pakistan, under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development Studies of well waters from Nigeria, Egypt, and Pakistan



Well waters in Egypt, Nigeria, and West Pakistan were studied for their chemical properties and corrosive or encrusting behavior. From the chemical composition of the waters, reaction states with reference to equilibrium were tested for 29 possible coexisting oxides, carbonates, sulfides, and elements. Of the 29 solids considered, only calcite, CaCO3, and ferric hydroxide, Fe(OH)3, showed any correlation with the corrosiveness of the waters to mild steel (iron metal). All 39 of the waters tested were out of equilibrium with iron metal, but those waters in equilibrium or supersaturated with both calcite and ferric hydroxide were the least corrosive. Supersaturation with other solid phases apparently was unrelated to corrosion.

A number of solids may form surface deposits in wells and lead to decreased yields by fouling well intakes (screens and gravel packs) or increasing friction losses in casings. Calcite, CaCO3; ferric hydroxide, Fe(OH)3; magnetite, Fe3O4; siderite, FeCO3; hausmannite, Mn304 (tetragonal); manganese spinel, Mn3O4 (isometric); three iron sulfides mackinawite, FeS (tetragonal); greigite, Fe3S4 (isometric); and smythite, Fe3S4 (rhombohedral)-copper hydroxide, Co(OH)2; and manganese hydroxide, Mn(OH)2, were all at least tentatively identified in the deposits sampled.

Of geochemical interest is the demonstration that simple stable equilibrium models fail in nearly every case to predict compositions of water yielded by the wells studied. Only one stable phase (calcite) was found to exhibit behavior approximately predictable from stable equilibrium considerations. No other stable phase was found to behave as would be predicted from equilibrium considerations. All the solids found to precipitate (except calcite) are metastable in that they are not the least soluble phases possible in the systems studied.

In terms of metastable equilibrium, siderite and ferric hydroxide behave approximately as would be predicted from equilibrium considerations, but both are metastable and the presence of neither would be anticipated if only the most stable phases were considered. The behaviors of none of the other solids would be predictable from either stable or metastable equilibrium considerations. An unanswered problem raised by the study reported here is how, or by what paths, truly stable phases form if first precipitates are generally metastable.

The utility of the findings in well design and operation is in no way impaired by the general lack of equilibrium. Conditions leading to either corrosion (which is related to lack of supersaturation with protective phases), or encrustation (supersaturation with phases that were found to precipitate), or both, apparently can be identified. The application of the methods described can be of great importance in developing unexploited ground-water resources in that certain practical problems can be identified before extensive well construction and unnecessary well failure.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Chemical properties of ground water and their corrosion and encrustation effects on wells
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Government Printing Office
iv, p. D1-D58
Larger Work Title:
Hydrology of aquifer systems
Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan