Potential impact of flowback water from hydraulic fracturing on agricultural soil quality: Metal/metalloid bioaccessibility, Microtox bioassay, and enzyme activities

Season S. Chen, Yuqing Sun, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Nigel J.D. Graham, Yong Sik Ok, Yujie Feng, Xiang Dong Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing has advanced the development of shale gas extraction, while inadvertent spills of flowback water may pose a risk to the surrounding environment due to its high salt content, metals/metalloids (As, Se, Fe and Sr), and organic additives. This study investigated the potential impact of flowback water on four representative soils from shale gas regions in Northeast China using synthetic flowback solutions. The compositions of the solutions were representative of flowback water arising at different stages after fracturing well establishment. The effects of solution composition of flowback water on soil ecosystem were assessed in terms of metal mobility and bioaccessibility, as well as biological endpoints using Microtox bioassay (Vibrio fischeri) and enzyme activity tests. After one-month artificial aging of the soils with various flowback solutions, the mobility and bioaccessibility of As(V) and Se(VI) decreased as the ionic strength of the flowback solutions increased. The results inferred a stronger binding affinity of As(V) and Se(VI) with the soils. Nevertheless, the soil toxicity to Vibrio fischeri only presented a moderate increase after aging, while dehydrogenase and phosphomonoesterase activities were significantly suppressed with increasing ionic strength of flowback solutions. On the contrary, polyacrylamide in the flowback solutions led to higher dehydrogenase activity. These results indicated that soil enzyme activities were sensitive to the composition of flowback solutions. A preliminary human health risk assessment related to As(V) suggested a low level of cancer risk through exposure via ingestion, while holistic assessment of environmental implications is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1419-1426
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume579
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Feb 1
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Enzyme activity
  • Fracturing fluids
  • Metal mobility
  • Microbial toxicity
  • Soil interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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