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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Short Communications

Land Application of Hydrofracturing Fluids Damages a Deciduous Forest Stand in West Virginia


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 4, p. 1340-1344
    Received: Nov 23, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): mbadams@fs.fed.us
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  1. Mary Beth Adams *a
  1. a USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, P.O. Box 404, Parsons, WV 26287. Assigned to Associate Editor Fien Degryse


In June 2008, 303,000 L of hydrofracturing fluid from a natural gas well were applied to a 0.20-ha area of mixed hardwood forest on the Fernow Experimental Forest, West Virginia. During application, severe damage and mortality of ground vegetation was observed, followed about 10 d later by premature leaf drop by the overstory trees. Two years after fluid application, 56% of the trees within the fluid application area were dead. Fagus grandifolia Ehrh. was the tree species with the highest mortality, and Acer rubrum L. was the least affected, although all tree species present on the site showed damage symptoms and mortality. Surface soils (0–10 cm) were sampled in July and October 2008, June and October 2009, and May 2010 on the fluid application area and an adjacent reference area to evaluate the effects of the hydrofracturing fluid on soil chemistry and to attempt to identify the main chemical constituents of the hydrofracturing fluid. Surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold as a result of the land application of hydrofracturing fluids and declined over time. Soil acidity in the fluid application area declined with time, perhaps from altered organic matter cycling. This case study identifies the need for further research to help understand the nature and the environmental impacts of hydrofracturing fluids to devise optimal, safe disposal strategies.

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Copyright © 2011. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.