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USGS develops new way to predict groundwater contamination from oil and gas waste

Amy Mall

Posted December 5, 2013

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According to a recent article in Greenwire, USGS scientists have developed a new method to predict where groundwater is likely to be contaminated by salty oil and gas wastewater.

The scientists already knew that they could detect salty wastewater (sometimes called "brine" although it can contain many other dangerous contaminants) by dangling a magnetic beam from a helicopter. They used this method to detect contamination of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation's drinking water.

Now they are using the technology to not only detect contamination but to predict where it might happen or has already happened, in particular near important wetlands. There are many spills and other accidents in North Dakota that threaten groundwater.

USGS scientists are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor areas near important wetlands that are at high risk for groundwater contamination. They have developed a methodology based on the age of oil and gas wells, the type of soil, the distance from wetlands and streams, and the density of the wells in the area to predict the likelihood of contamination.

According to USGS, there are about 300,000 wetlands and 4500 miles of streams within one mile of an oil or gas well in North Dakota--placing a lot of water sources and important wildlife habitat at risk. Many of these areas are in National Wildlife Refuges that provide vital habitat for waterbirds like ducks. These efforts will help the public to better understand the true risks of oil and gas production.

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Michael BerndtsonDec 6 2013 07:51 AM

Sort of on topic. This case could become really interesting and would weigh large on off site contaminant migration. In short, injection well waste migrates below agricultural land. Even though the groundwater is briny, it could become of value upon treatment. Back on topic, despite the USGS being staffed with geologists, it has been doing great work on hydrogeo stuff for years. Cool tech I had no idea existed.

Amy MallDec 6 2013 09:58 AM

Michael: Thanks for the comment. I agree that USGS is doing very important scientific work related to oil and gas operations. I have posted several blogs on their work in recent months.

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