Shale gas wastewater geochemistry and impact on the quality of surface water in Sichuan Basin

Yunyan Ni, Limiao Yao, Jianli Sui, Jianping Chen, Fei Liu, Fei Wang, Guangyou Zhu, Avner Vengosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Shale gas wastewater (SGW) disposal is a major challenge in the areas in central China due to its increasing volume associated with intensification of shale gas exploration and its high levels of contaminants. In the Fuling shale gas field of Sichuan Basin, a small amount of SGW originated from the flowback and produced water (FPW) is treated and then discharged to a local stream. This study investigated the inorganic water geochemistry and Sr isotopic composition of the FPW in Fuling shale gas field, the SGW effluent that is generated in the treatment facility, and the quality of a local river after the disposal of treated SGW. The data generated in this study reveals that FPW generate after several years of shale gas operation maintain the original geochemical fingerprints detected in early stages of FPW generation, and consistent with the FPW composition detected in other shale gas fields in Sichuan Basin. We show that reuse of saline FPW for hydraulic fracturing can generate an inverse salinity trend, where the salinity of FPW decreases with time, reflecting the increase of the contribution of formation water with lower salinity. The treatment of the FPW results in ~40 % reduction of the salts by dilution with freshwater and selective (80–90 %) removal of some of the inorganic contaminants. The original geochemical fingerprints of the FPW from Fuling shale gas field was not modified during FPW treatment, reinforcing the applicability of these tracers for detecting SGW in the environment. Discharge of treated SGW effluent to a local river causes a major 200-fold dilution and reduction of all contaminants levels below drinking water and ecological standards. Overall, this study emphasizes the importance of water quality monitoring of treated SGW and the overall measures needed to protect public health and the environment in areas of shale gas development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number158371
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 10 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Flowback and produced water
  • Shale gas
  • Sichuan Basin
  • Surface water
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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