Soil Contamination Assessments from Drilling Fluids and Produced Water Using Combined Field and Laboratory Investigations: A Case Study of Arkansas, USA

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 2;18(5):2421. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18052421.


Rotary drilling for oil and natural gas uses drilling fluid for lubrication of the bit, to seal off unstable shale layers, and floating out rock cuttings. Drilling fluid is a water-clay chemical mixture. Produced water is a water-sand chemical mixture. Land farming is a common disposal technique of drilling fluid and produced water. In the land farming process, amendments of fluid are repeatedly applied to the soil surface. Plant growth and soil chemical properties may be altered by additions of drilling fluid, because of alkalinity, salinity, trace elements, and petroleum residue contained in waste. The objective of this study was to determine the change in soil pH, electrical conductivity (EC), total nitrogen and carbon, and extractable nutrient levels following the land application of drilling fluid and produced water. The study was a comparison of three plots with similar soil properties and conditions. The three study plots had various levels of drilling fluid and produced water applications. The data show a major difference from field-to-field for EC, Na, and Cl levels. The EC and salt levels increased with additional applications of drilling fluid and produced water. The percent total nitrogen values and plant available P levels were very low in all fields. High EC and salt values, coupled with low N and P levels, would be detrimental to plant growth and development. To successfully vegetate this land-farm site, application of N and P fertilizer would be required. This study help to give a better understanding of practical ways to land-farm drilling fluid and produced water in a fashion that both minimizes environmental issues and is economically feasible in Arkansas. Thus, this research will provide important information for soil contamination management and contributes on understanding of the responses of soil properties to drilling fluid and produced water in the future.

Keywords: Arkansas; drilling fluid; field and laboratory investigations; produced water; soil contamination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arkansas
  • Fertilizers
  • Laboratories
  • Soil*
  • Water*


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Water