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Assessment of Surface Water Contamination from Coalbed Methane Fracturing-Derived Volatile Contaminants in Sullivan County, Indiana, USA


There is a growing concern over the contamination of surface water and the associated environmental and public health consequences from the recent proliferation of hydraulic fracturing in the USA. Petroleum hydrocarbon-derived contaminants of concern [benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX)] and various dissolved cations and anions were spatially determined in surface waters around 15 coalbed methane fracking wells in Sullivan County, IN, USA. At least one BTEX compound was detected in 69% of sampling sites (n = 13) and 23% of sampling sites were found to be contaminated with all of the BTEX compounds. Toluene was the most common BTEX compound detected across all sampling sites, both upstream and downstream from coalbed methane fracking wells. The average concentration of toluene at a reservoir and its outlet nearby the fracking wells was ~2× higher than other downstream sites. However, one of the upstream sites was found to be contaminated with BTEX at similar concentrations as in a reservoir site nearby the fracking well. Calcium (~60 ppm) and sulfates (~175 ppm) were the dominant cations and anions, respectively, in surface water around the fracking sites. This study represents the first report of BTEX contamination in surface water from coalbed methane hydraulic fracturing wells.

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The authors would like to acknowledge Laura Demarest of the West Central Indiana Water Alliance for providing GIS data that was utilized to create Fig. 1, and Dr. Frederick Soster of DePauw University for providing feedback regarding the project. We would also like to thank Dr. Jeanette Pope of DePauw University for providing laboratory accessories and access to an ion chromatograph. Funding for this project was provided by the Science Research Fellows program at DePauw University.

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Correspondence to Nicholas Meszaros or Bikram Subedi.

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Meszaros, N., Subedi, B., Stamets, T. et al. Assessment of Surface Water Contamination from Coalbed Methane Fracturing-Derived Volatile Contaminants in Sullivan County, Indiana, USA. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 99, 385–390 (2017).

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  • Coalbed methane
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • BTEX
  • Dissolved ions
  • Indiana