Land-Cover Changes Associated With Oil and Natural-Gas Production and Concentrations of Selected Constituents in Surface-Water and Streambed-Sediment Samples Collected Upstream From and Within an Area of Oil and Natural-Gas Production, South Texas, 2008–17

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5119
Prepared in cooperation with the San Antonio River Authority
By: , and 

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  • Document: Report (4.51 MB pdf)
  • Data Release: USGS data release – Land-use, water-quality, and sediment-quality data from an area upstream from and within an area of oil and natural-gas production in the lower San Antonio River watershed, south Texas, 2008–17
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Abstract

The extensive development of oil and natural-gas resources in south Texas during the past 10 years has led to questions regarding possible environmental effects of processes associated with oil and natural-gas production, in particular the process of hydraulic fracturing, on water and other natural resources. Part of the lower San Antonio River watershed intersects an area of oil and natural-gas production from the sedimentary rocks that compose the Eagle Ford Group.

The rapid expansion of infrastructure associated with oil and natural-gas production increases potential pathways for inorganic and organic contaminants to enter surface-water systems. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the San Antonio River Authority, analyzed geospatial data from different years (2008 and 2015) to evaluate changes in land cover associated with oil and natural-gas production activities in the lower San Antonio River watershed. Impervious surface in this study is defined as land cover consisting of well pads, oil- and gas-related features, or roads. The areal coverage associated with impervious surface increased from 201 acres to 5,390 acres (net increase of 5,189 acres) between 2008 and 2015. The total percentage of the study area accounted for by impervious surface resulting from oil and natural-gas production activities increased from 0.034 percent to 0.912 percent, which is an increase of approximately 27-fold. Collectively, 0.878 percent of the study area was converted to new impervious surface between 2008 and 2015. If the area associated with new storage ponds (0.066 percent) is added to the estimate of total land-cover changes as a result of oil and natural-gas production, then 0.944 percent of the study area was altered.

During 2015–17, surface-water samples collected from 5 sites and streambed-sediment samples collected from 17 sites in the lower San Antonio River watershed were analyzed for a broad range of constituents that might be associated with oil and natural-gas production. All major elements, trace elements, semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) measured in surface-water samples were detected at concentrations less than any of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water-quality standards. In general, the greatest SVOC and VOC concentrations were observed in samples collected from sites upstream from the area of active oil and natural-gas production and just downstream from urban areas. The lack of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and all isomers of xylene (hereinafter referred to as BTEX) for most sites within the area of active oil and natural-gas production indicates that little, if any, local runoff associated with the area of active oil and natural-gas production has contaminated the surface water with BTEX compounds. Glycols, which are commonly used in hydraulic fracturing fluids as scale inhibitors, were detected in one surface-water sample from Ecleto Creek within the area of oil and natural-gas production; however, the presence of glycols does not necessarily indicate contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluid. The glycols detected also have other potential sources including the use of diethylene and ethylene glycols in antifreeze used in vehicles and the use of triethylene glycol in antibacterial air sanitizers.

The concentrations of select constituents in the streambed-sediment samples were compared to sediment quality guidelines (SQGs). The SQGs evaluate the potential toxicity of bed sediments to sediment-dwelling organisms. Two SQG concentration levels are used: (1) a lower level, called the threshold effect concentration (TEC), below which harmful effects to benthic biota are not expected, and (2) a higher level, the probable effect concentration (PEC), above which harmful effects are expected to occur frequently. The PEC for arsenic was exceeded in a sample collected from one site on Ecleto Creek. The origin of the elevated arsenic concentration is unknown; the contamination likely is not related to oil and natural-gas production because the site of the sample collection is located upstream from the area of active oil and natural-gas production. Streambed-sediment samples were analyzed for selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) because PAHs can be used as indicators of petroleum hydrocarbons associated with produced waters. Each streambed-sediment sample was analyzed for two size fractions of PAHs: less than (<) 63 micrometers (μm) and < 2 millimeters (mm). Total PAH concentrations in all samples, regardless of size fraction, were less than the TEC for total PAHs of 1,610 micrograms per kilogram. Total PAH concentrations generally were greater in the <63-μm size-fraction samples than in the <2-mm size-fraction samples, indicating that PAHs could potentially sorb more readily to the exclusively silt- and clay-sized particles that compose <63-μm size-fraction samples than to the mixture of silt and clay and larger sized particles that compose the <2-mm size-fraction samples. Total PAH concentrations typically were greater in the samples collected from the sites upstream from the area of active oil and natural-gas production compared to those collected from sites within the area in both the <2-mm and <63-μm size-fraction samples. The smaller PAH concentrations measured in samples collected from within the area of active oil and natural-gas production in comparison to the upstream urbanized areas indicate relatively minor additional local contributions of PAHs of uncertain origin to the watershed.

Suggested Citation

Crow, C.L., Opsahl, S.P., Pedraza, D.E., Pease, E.C., and Kushnereit, R.K., 2018, Land-cover changes associated with oil and natural-gas production and concentrations of selected constituents in surface-water and streambed-sediment samples collected upstream from and within an area of oil and natural-gas production, south Texas, 2008–17: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5119, 52 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20185119.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Land-Cover Changes Associated with Oil and Natural-Gas Production
  • Concentrations of Selected Constituents
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Land-cover changes associated with oil and natural-gas production and concentrations of selected constituents in surface-water and streambed-sediment samples collected upstream from and within an area of oil and natural-gas production, south Texas, 2008–17
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2018-5119
DOI 10.3133/sir20185119
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Texas Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 52 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Texas
Other Geospatial San Antonio River watershed
Online Only (Y/N) N