Nav: Home

Oil and gas wastewater used for irrigation may suppress plant immune systems

October 31, 2019

The horizontal drilling method called hydraulic fracturing helps the United States produce close to 4 billion barrels of oil and natural gas per year, rocketing the U.S. to the top of oil-producing nations in the world.

The highly profitable practice comes with a steep price: For every barrel of oil, oil and gas extraction also produces about seven barrels of wastewater, consisting mainly of naturally occurring subsurface water extracted along with the fossil fuels. That's about 2 billion gallons of wastewater a day. Companies, policymakers and scientists are on the lookout for new strategies for dealing with that wastewater. Among the most tantalizing ideas is recycling it to irrigate food crops, given water scarcity issues in the West.

A new Colorado State University study gives pause to that idea. The team led by Professor Thomas Borch of the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences conducted a greenhouse study using produced water from oil and gas extraction to irrigate common wheat crops. Their study, published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, showed that these crops had weakened immune systems, leading to the question of whether using such wastewater for irrigation would leave crop systems more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal pathogens.

"The big question is, is it safe?" said Borch, a biogeochemist who has joint academic appointments in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "Have we considered every single thing we need to consider before we do this?"

Typically, oil and gas wastewater, also known as produced water, is trucked away from drilling sites and reinjected into the Earth via deep disposal wells. Such practices have been documented to induce earthquakes and may lead to contamination of surface water and groundwater aquifers.

The idea for using such water for irrigation has prompted studies testing things like crop yield, soil health, and contaminant uptake by plants, especially since produced water is often high in salts, and its chemistry varies greatly from region to region. Borch, who has conducted numerous oil and gas-related studies, including how soils fare during accidental spills, wondered if anyone had tried to determine whether irrigation water quality impacts crops' inherent ability to protect themselves from disease.

The experiments were conducted in collaboration with plant microbiome expert Pankaj Trivedi, a CSU assistant professor in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, and researchers at Colorado School of Mines. The team irrigated wheat plants with tap water, two dilutions of produced water, and a salt water control. They exposed the plants to common bacterial and fungal pathogens and sampled the leaves after the pathogens were verified to have taken hold.

Using state-of-the-art quantitative genetic sequencing, the scientists determined that the plants watered with the highest concentration of produced water had significant changes in expression of genes plants normally use to fight infections. Their study didn't determine exactly which substances in the produced water correlated with suppressed immunity. But they hypothesized that a combination of contaminants like boron, petroleum hydrocarbons and salt caused the plants to reallocate metabolic resources to fight stress, making it more challenging for them to produce disease-fighting genes.

"Findings from this work suggest that plant immune response impacts must be assessed before reusing treated oil and gas wastewater for agricultural irrigation," the study authors wrote.
-end-
Read the study: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.estlett.9b00539

Colorado State University

Related Wastewater Articles:

SARS-CoV-2 RNA detected in untreated wastewater from Louisiana
A group of scientists have detected genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 in untreated wastewater samples collected in April 2020 from two wastewater treatment plants in Louisiana, USA.
Could COVID-19 in wastewater be infectious?
Bar-Zeev, and his postdoc student, Anne Bogler, together with other renowned researchers, indicate that sewage leaking into natural watercourses might lead to infection via airborne spray.
Researchers: What's in oilfield wastewater matters for injection-induced earthquakes
Specifically, he pointed out that oilfield brine has much different properties, like density and viscosity, than pure water, and these differences affect the processes that cause fluid pressure to trigger earthquakes.
Better wastewater treatment? It's a wrap
A shield of graphene helps particles destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the free-floating genes in wastewater treatment plants.
Using electricity to break down pollutants left over after wastewater treatment
Pesticides, pharmaceutical products, and endocrine disruptors are some of the emerging contaminants often found in treated domestic wastewater, even after secondary treatment.
Anammox bacteria generate energy from wastewater while taking a breath
More energy-efficient wastewater treatment may be possible by harnessing anammox bacteria's surprising ability to 'breathe' solid-state matter.
IO hybrid adsorbent to remove hazardous Cadmium(II) from wastewater
In a paper published in NANO, a group of researchers from Hebei University of Technology, Tianjin, China have discovered an effective way to remove heavy metal Cadmium(II) from wastewater.
Using wastewater to monitor COVID-19
A recent review paper from an international research group shows how wastewater could provide a useful tool for monitoring COVID-19 and highlights the further research needed to develop this as a viable method for tracking virus outbreaks.
Rice engineers: Make wastewater drinkable again
Delivering water to city dwellers can become far more efficient, according to Rice University researchers who say it should involve a healthy level of recycled wastewater.
Novel coronavirus detected, monitored in wastewater
A new approach to monitoring the novel coronavirus, (as well as other dangerous pathogens and chemical agents), is being developed and refined.
More Wastewater News and Wastewater Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#573 Penis. That's It. That's the title.
This episode is about penises. That was your content warning. Penises. Where they came from. Why they're useful. And the many, many wild things that animals do with them. Come for the world's oldest penis, stay for the creature that ejaculates 80 percent of its bodyweight. Host Bethany Brookshire talks with Emily Willingham about her new book, "Phallacy: Life Lessons from the Animal Penis".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Falling
There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.