Environmental Practice


RESEARCH ARTICLE: Oil and Gas Produced Water Management and Surface Drinking Water Sources in Pennsylvania

Jessica M. Wilsona1 c1 and Jeanne M. VanBriesena2

a1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

a2 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Produced water from oil and gas development requires management to avoid negative public health effects, particularly those associated with dissolved solids and bromide in drinking water. Rapidly expanding drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania has significantly increased the volume of produced water that must be managed. Produced water management may include treatment followed by surface water discharge, such as at publically owned wastewater treatment plants (POTWs) or centralized brine treatment plants (CWTs). The use of POTWs and CWTs that discharge partially treated produced water has the potential to increase salt loads to surface waters significantly. These loads may cause unacceptably high concentrations of dissolved solids or bromide in source waters, particularly when rivers are at low-flow conditions. The present study evaluates produced water management in Pennsylvania from 2006 through 2011 to determine whether surface water discharges were sufficient to cause salt or bromide loads that would negatively affect drinking water sources. The increase in produced water that occurred in 2008 in Pennsylvania was accompanied by an increase in use of CWTs and POTWs that were exempt from discharge limits on dissolved solids. Estimates of salt loads associated with produced water and with discharges from CWTs and POTWs in 2008 and 2009 indicate that more than 50% of the total dissolved solids in the produced water generated in those years were released to surface water systems. Especially during the low-flow conditions of 2008 and 2009, these loads would be expected to affect drinking water.

Environmental Practice 14:1–13 (2012)

(Received May 18 2012)

(Revised September 14 2012)

(Accepted September 24 2012)


c1 Jessica M. Wilson, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15213; (phone) 412-268-3819; (fax) 412-268-7813; (e-mail) jwilson3@andrew.cmu.edu

Jessica M. Wilson is a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She earned her BS in environmental science from Russell Sage College and her MS in environmental engineering from Manhattan College. Her professional experience includes a position as a chemist for Environmental Testing Laboratories in Farmingdale, New York. She has received several awards, including an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Annual Merit Award, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Pennsylvania Section David A. Long Scholarship, and a graduate research fellowship from the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research.

Jeanne M. VanBriesen is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the director of the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. She is a registered Professional Engineer. Jeanne earned her BS in education and MS and PhD in civil engineering from Northwestern University. She has published more than 40 scientific articles and given more than 100 professional presentations. Jeanne has received numerous awards, including the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association Professional Research Award in 2007, the Best Research Paper in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management in 2008, the Professor of the Year for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Pittsburgh chapter in 2009, and the McGraw-Hill/Association for Environmental Engineering and Science Professors Award for Outstanding Teaching in Environmental Engineering in 2009.