Organic substances in produced and formation water from unconventional natural gas extraction in coal and shale

William Orem, Calin Tatu, Matthew Varonka, Harry Lerch, Anne Bates, Mark Engle, Lynn Crosby, Jennifer McIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Scopus citations


Organic substances in produced and formation water from coalbed methane (CBM) and gas shale plays from across the USA were examined in this study. Disposal of produced waters from gas extraction in coal and shale is an important environmental issue because of the large volumes of water involved and the variable quality of this water. Organic substances in produced water may be environmentally relevant as pollutants, but have been little studied. Results from five CBM plays and two gas shale plays (including the Marcellus Shale) show a myriad of organic chemicals present in the produced and formation water. Organic compound classes present in produced and formation water in CBM plays include: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heterocyclic compounds, alkyl phenols, aromatic amines, alkyl aromatics (alkyl benzenes, alkyl biphenyls), long-chain fatty acids, and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Concentrations of individual compounds range from <. 1 to 100. μg/L, but total PAHs (the dominant compound class for most CBM samples) range from 50 to 100. μg/L. Total dissolved organic carbon (TOC) in CBM produced water is generally in the 1-4. mg/L range. Excursions from this general pattern in produced waters from individual wells arise from contaminants introduced by production activities (oils, grease, adhesives, etc.). Organic substances in produced and formation water from gas shale unimpacted by production chemicals have a similar range of compound classes as CBM produced water, and TOC levels of about 8. mg/L. However, produced water from the Marcellus Shale using hydraulic fracturing has TOC levels as high as 5500. mg/L and a range of added organic chemicals including, solvents, biocides, scale inhibitors, and other organic chemicals at levels of 1000. s of μg/L for individual compounds. Levels of these hydraulic fracturing chemicals and TOC decrease rapidly over the first 20. days of water recovery and some level of residual organic contaminants remain up to 250. days after hydraulic fracturing. Although the environmental impacts of the organics in produced water are not well defined, results suggest that care should be exercised in the disposal and release of produced waters containing these organic substances into the environment because of the potential toxicity of many of these substances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-31
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014


  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Organic substance
  • Produced water
  • Shale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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