USGS: More data needed to grasp fracing’s water-quality risks

More data and research will be necessary to better understand potential water-quality risks associated with US unconventional oil and gas resource development, a recent US Geological Survey study concluded.

More data and research will be necessary to better understand potential water-quality risks associated with US unconventional oil and gas resource development, a recent US Geological Survey study concluded.

“We mined the national water-quality databases from 1970-2010 and were able to assess long-term trends in only 16% of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources,” said Zachary H. Bowen, a USGS scientist and principal author of the article, which appears in the American Geophysical Union’s Water Resources Research.

“There are not enough data available to be able to assess potential effects of oil and gas development over large geographic areas,” said Bowen, who works in the Ecosystems Dynamics Branch at USGS’s Fort Collins, Colo., Science Center.

The researchers used existing USGS and US Environmental Protection Agency data sets to increase understanding of spatial distribution of US unconventional oil and gas development, and broadly assess surface water quality trends in these areas.

Based on sample size limitations, they were not able to estimate trends in specific conductance (SC) and chloride (Cl) during the 40-year period in 16% of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources, the study’s abstract said.

Trends were assessed relative to spatiotemporal distributions of fraced wells, it indicated.

“Results from this limited analysis suggest no consistent and widespread trends in surface water quality for SC and Cl in areas with increasing unconventional oil and gas development,” the abstract said.

Findings also highlighted existing national databases’ limitations for addressing questions regarding unconventional oil and gas development and water quality, it added.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

More in Government