Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Fate and Effects of Wastes from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

USGS Scientist with hands in ice hole collecting a sample
USGS scientist working under ice to obtain grab samples of a stream in North Dakota to assess impacts of a UOG brine spill. Photo Credit: Adam Benthem, USGS.

Waste materials (solid and liquid wastes) from unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development may pose risks to water quality and environmental health. Exposure pathways include land application, breaching of surface impoundments and pipelines, discharge of treated wastewaters and sludge, failures in well completions through shallow aquifers, or migration through fracture networks to adjoining permeable formations. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program is conducting studies aimed at understanding the composition of UOG waste materials, to identify potential pathways to the environment, and to evaluate potential effects on receptor organisms from exposure to constituents of these wastes. Our results are critical for assessing human and ecosystem health risks and advising resource managers. More information on our research is available.


USGS scientists are collecting water samples on the wastewater disposal facility

Examining Shifts in Stream Microbial Communities Exposed to Oil and Gas Wastewaters

Shifts in the overall microbial community structure were present in stream sediments that contained chemicals associated with unconventional oil and gas wastewaters. This work is part of a long-term study designed to understand persistence of chemicals from oil and gas wastewaters in sediments and water and how those factors might be related to exposures and adverse health effects, if any, on organisms.

USGS scientist lifting a sample bottle from ice hole

Understanding Pathways of Unconventional Oil and Gas Produced Water Spills in the Environment

A new study measures the transport of chemicals associated with unconventional oil-and gas (UOG) produced waters downstream from a pipeline leak in North Dakota. This work is part of a long-term study designed to understand chemical persistence in sediments and water and how those factors might be related to contaminant exposures and associated with adverse health effects, if any, on organisms.

Class II injection well wastewater disposal facility with sorage tanks and tanker trucks

Indication of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewaters Found in Local Surface Waters

Evidence indicating the presence of wastewaters UOG production was found in surface waters and surficial sediments near an UOG disposal facility in West Virginia.

Storage tanks for produced water from natural gas drilling

Microbiology and Chemistry of Waters Produced from Hydraulic Fracking—A Case Study

A new USGS study determined that the microbiology and organic chemistry of produced waters varied widely among hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania.

Data and Tools

Four microcosm bottles with labels

Analytical Methods

USGS scientists are developing analytical methods for target compounds generated during UOG development. Scientists are targeting compounds that include potential contaminants of concern or might serve as useful tracers of the waste materials in the event of a release to the environment.


Library bookshelf


Access to publications from this investigation.


USGS scientist measuring dissolved oxygen

Project Photo Gallery

A collection of photos illustrating project field and laboratory activities.

More Information

The UOG Research Team

Get More Information on This Investigation

Get more information on the project's investigations on the fate and effects of UOG wastes and the characterization of UOG wastes. The project's research plan is also avaialble.



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Page Last Modified: March 23 2017