Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 30, pp 30390–30400 | Cite as

The state of produced water generation and risk for groundwater contamination in Weld County, Colorado

  • Amanda ShoresEmail author
  • Melinda Laituri
Research Article


Natural gas and oil extraction, while meeting much of our current energy demand, also generates large volumes of waste water (“produced water”) that creates risks for groundwater contamination when spilled. Weld County, Colorado, where the majority of extraction occurs in Colorado, was used as a case study to understand how groundwater impacts were related to spill details including volumes spilled, area impacted, and depth to groundwater. Publically available produced water production and spill data were analyzed to determine if improvements could be made to reduce the water intensity of oil and gas drilling. The depth to groundwater significantly affected the likelihood of groundwater contamination at spill sites. Since spills often occur at oil and gas well pads, extraction site selection should preclude those areas that have shallow groundwater. Evaluation of produced water generation and produced water spilled reveal that although larger-scale operations did generate less relative produced water per energy generated, the total volume of produced water spilled by an operator was linearly correlated with the scale of the operation. These results suggest that employing fewer, large-scale operators would help to reduce the overall volume of water generated but not the overall volume spilled. The results from this research have important regulation and policy implications that can help mitigate the increased threat of groundwater contamination from produced water spills.


Produced water Hydraulic fracturing Weld County Colorado Spills Groundwater contamination Soil contamination Oil and gas extraction 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability ESS 1476 and the Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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