Assessment of surface water chloride and conductivity trends in areas of unconventional oil and gas development-Why existing national data sets cannot tell us what we would like to know

Product Type: 

Journal Article

Year: 

2015

Author(s): 

Bowen, Z.H., G.P. Oelsner, B.S. Cade, T.J. Gallegos, A.M. Farag, D.N. Mott, C.J. Potter, P.J. Cinotto, M.L. Clark, W.M. Kappel, T.M. Kresse, C.P. Melcher, S.S. Paschke, D.D. Susong, and B.A. Varela

Suggested Citation: 

Bowen, Z.H., G.P. Oelsner, B.S. Cade, T.J. Gallegos, A.M. Farag, D.N. Mott, C.J. Potter, P.J. Cinotto, M.L. Clark, W.M. Kappel, T.M. Kresse, C.P. Melcher, S.S. Paschke, D.D. Susong, and B.A. Varela. 2015. Assessment of surface water chloride and conductivity trends in areas of unconventional oil and gas development-Why existing national data sets cannot tell us what we would like to know. Water Resources Research. 51(1): 704-715.

Heightened concern regarding the potential effects of unconventional oil and gas development on regional water quality has emerged, but the few studies on this topic are limited in geographic scope. Here we evaluate the potential utility of national and publicly available water-quality data sets for addressing questions regarding unconventional oil and gas development. We used existing U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data sets to increase understanding of the spatial distribution of unconventional oil and gas development in the U.S. and broadly assess surface water quality trends in these areas. Based on sample size limitations, we were able to estimate trends in specific conductance (SC) and chloride (Cl-) from 1970 to 2010 in 16% (n=155) of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources. We assessed these trends relative to spatiotemporal distributions of hydraulically fractured wells. 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 and highlight limitations of existing national databases for addressing questions regarding unconventional oil and gas development and water quality.