Watershed-Scale Impacts from Surface Water Disposal of Oil and Gas Wastewater in Western Pennsylvania

William D. Burgos, Luis Castillo-Meza, Travis L. Tasker, Thomas J. Geeza, Patrick J. Drohan, Xiaofeng Liu, Joshua D. Landis, Jens Blotevogel, Molly McLaughlin, Thomas Borch, Nathaniel R. Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Combining horizontal drilling with high volume hydraulic fracturing has increased extraction of hydrocarbons from low-permeability oil and gas (O&G) formations across the United States; accompanied by increased wastewater production. Surface water discharges of O&G wastewater by centralized waste treatment (CWT) plants pose risks to aquatic and human health. We evaluated the impact of surface water disposal of O&G wastewater from CWT plants upstream of the Conemaugh River Lake (dam controlled reservoir) in western Pennsylvania. Regulatory compliance data were collected to calculate annual contaminant loads (Ba, Cl, total dissolved solids (TDS)) to document historical industrial activity. In this study, two CWT plants 10 and 19 km upstream of a reservoir left geochemical signatures in sediments and porewaters corresponding to peak industrial activity that occurred 5 to 10 years earlier. Sediment cores were sectioned for the collection of paired samples of sediment and porewater, and analyzed for analytes to identify unconventional O&G wastewater disposal. Sediment layers corresponding to the years of maximum O&G wastewater disposal contained higher concentrations of salts, alkaline earth metals, and organic chemicals. Isotopic ratios of 226Ra/228Ra and 87Sr/86Sr identified that peak concentrations of Ra and Sr were likely sourced from wastewaters that originated from the Marcellus Shale formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8851-8860
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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