Brine Spills Associated with Unconventional Oil Development in North Dakota

Nancy E. Lauer, Jennifer S. Harkness, Avner Vengosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

182 Scopus citations


The rapid rise of unconventional oil production during the past decade in the Bakken region of North Dakota raises concerns related to water contamination associated with the accidental release of oil and gas wastewater to the environment. Here, we characterize the major and trace element chemistry and isotopic ratios (87Sr/86Sr, δ18O, δ2H) of surface waters (n = 29) in areas impacted by oil and gas wastewater spills in the Bakken region of North Dakota. We establish geochemical and isotopic tracers that can identify Bakken brine spills in the environment. In addition to elevated concentrations of dissolved salts (Na, Cl, Br), spill waters also consisted of elevated concentrations of other contaminants (Se, V, Pb, NH4) compared to background waters, and soil and sediment in spill sites had elevated total radium activities (228Ra + 226Ra) relative to background, indicating accumulation of Ra in impacted soil and sediment. We observed that inorganic contamination associated with brine spills in North Dakota is remarkably persistent, with elevated levels of contaminants observed in spills sites up to 4 years following the spill events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5389-5397
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 17 May 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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