Researchers' Corner

Jon Paul Pierre

Jon Paul Pierre

Evaluating Environmental Risks to Groundwater-dependent Spring Ecosystems

Permian Basin groundwater

Unsustainable groundwater development for agriculture has dried or reduced flow to springs that previously hosted species in the Permian Basin of interest to conservation. In the past 10 years, unconventional oil and gas development such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing has expanded rapidly in the region. Stimulation of each well may require millions of gallons, often sourced from groundwater. Of concern are potential impacts to springs and streams connected to aquifers being pumped for hydraulic fracturing water supplies.

We are assessing environmental risks to these springs by (1) collecting surface water, groundwater, and spring water samples, (2) evaluating chemical evolution of the samples to identity local and regional flow paths, (3) measuring groundwater levels to refine groundwater flow system using new and existing drill-monitoring wells, and (4) evaluating subsurface stratigraphy and faults that may influence groundwater flow.

The results of these assessments are integrated into a vulnerability analysis to help us understand what parts of the Trans-Pecos region may be sensitive to groundwater contamination or overuse. Practical scientific findings of this project are being conveyed to private industry, private landowners, federal and state agencies, and non-government organizations to assure that economically important oil and gas development may continue while also protecting biologically important groundwater-fed habitats.