USGS ENERGY INTEGRATED SCIENCE TEAM: ASSESSING ACTUAL VS. PERCEIVED RISKS OF OIL AND GAS PRODUCT AND WASTEWATER RELEASES TO SURFACE WATER AND GROUNDWATER
Releases of product and liquid wastes from oil and gas (OG) resource development pose potential risks to the quality of the Nation’s water resources and the health of organisms. USGS Environmental Health Program scientists work together with other USGS Mission Areas, and with external collaborators, to study contaminants in the environment and provide the science to help stakeholders protect environmental and human health. The Energy Integrated Science Team (IST) is studying the effects of historic and current oil and gas activities across the landscape. Our team provides science that informs mitigation strategies and helps understand mechanisms that control sources, movement, and toxicological effects of OG contaminants. The goal of this Energy IST is to investigate perceived risks to humans and other organisms and determine if actual risks exist. To address this goal, three science objectives are being investigated by the team: 1.) Source mobility and toxicity, 2.) Pathways to the environment and risk to receptors, 3.) Resilience/restoration of the environment, and 4). Reuse of energy-associated materials. Our interdisciplinary studies include 1) characterizing the composition of OG products and wastes, 2) studying the geochemical alterations of water and sediments at OG wastewater-impacted sites, 3) targeting potentially harmful compounds to aquatic and human health and constituents that serve as useful tracers of wastes, 4) employing geophysical techniques to trace wastewater pathways, and 5) conducting in-situ investigations of biological responses to spills. Our approach includes studies at field sites across the United States where releases have occurred and characterization of reactive and potentially toxic components of OG products and wastewaters. To track materials from releases, we use newly developed analytical methods for trace levels of hydrocarbons, and stable and radioactive isotopes, and conduct bioassays and microbial community characterization as proxies for ecological disturbance. I will present an overview of our recent site-based studies and how chemical characterizations, combined with hydrologic and geophysical investigations, allow us to identify contaminant discharges and track their impact over time.