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Soil Erosion and Surface Water Quality Impacts of Natural Gas Development in East Texas, USA

McBroom, Matthew, Thomas, Todd, Zhang, Yanli
Water 2012 v.4 no.4 pp. 944-958
best management practices, clearcutting, conservation practices, drilling, ephemeral streams, forests, hydrocarbons, natural gas, nitrogen, oils, phosphorus, runoff, sediment yield, soil erosion, stream channels, surface water, water quality, watersheds, weirs, Texas
Due to greater demands for hydrocarbons and improvements in drilling technology, development of oil and natural gas in some regions of the United States has increased dramatically. A 1.4 ha natural gas well pad was constructed in an intermittent stream channel at the Alto Experimental Watersheds in East Texas, USA (F1), while another 1.1 ha well pad was offset about 15 m from a nearby intermittent stream (F2). V-notch weirs were constructed downstream of these well pads and stream sedimentation and water quality was measured. For the 2009 water year, about 11.76 cm, or almost 222% more runoff resulted from F1 than F2. Sediment yield was significantly greater at F1, with 13,972 kg ha−1 yr−1 versus 714 kg ha−1yr−1 at F2 on a per unit area disturbance basis for the 2009 water year. These losses were greater than was observed following forest clearcutting with best management practices (111–224 kg ha−1). Significantly greater nitrogen and phosphorus losses were measured at F1 than F2. While oil and gas development can degrade surface water quality, appropriate conservation practices like retaining streamside buffers can mitigate these impacts.