Subsurface waste disposal by means of wells - A selective annotated bibliography

Water Supply Paper 2020
By: , and 



Subsurface waste disposal by means of wells is the practice of using drilled wells to inject unwanted substances into underground rock formations. The use of wells for this purpose is not a new idea. As long ago as the end of the last century, it was common practice to drill wells for the express purpose of draining swamps and small lakes to reclaim the land for agricultural purposes. A few decades later in the 1920's and 1930's many oil companies began using injection wells to dispose of oil-field brines and to repressurize oil reservoirs. During World War II, the Atomic Energy Commission began using injection wells to dispose of certain types of radioactive wastes. More recently, injection wells have been drilled to dispose of a variety of byproducts of industrial processes. The number of such wells has increased rapidly since Congress passed the Clean Streams Act of 1966, which restricted the discharge of waste into surface waters.

Many scientists and public officials question the propriety of using the term "disposal" when referring to the underground injection of wastes. Their reasons are that underground injection is not, as many advocates claim, "a complete and final answer" to the waste-disposal problem. Rather, it is merely a process wherein the injected wastes are committed to the subsurface with uncertainty as to their ultimate fate or limits of confinement. In effect, the wastes, undiminished and unchanged, are removed from the custody of man and placed in the custody of nature.

Although the concept of waste-injection wells is relatively simple, the effects of waste injection can be very complex, particularly when dealing with the exotic and complex components of some industrial wastes. Besides the physical forces of injection, there are many varied interactions between the injected wastes and the materials within the injection zone. Because these changes occur out of sight in the subsurface, they are difficult to assess and not generally understood. In addition, the various aspects of the problem involve a wide spectrum of science and engineering. Hence, articles published on the subject are widely dispersed in the technical and scientific literature. 

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Subsurface waste disposal by means of wells - A selective annotated bibliography
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 2020
DOI 10.3133/wsp2020
Year Published 1971
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Indiana Water Science Center, North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
Description v, 305 p.
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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