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Geochemistry of Inorganic Nitrogen in Waters Released from Coal-Bed Natural Gas Production Wells in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming

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journal contribution
posted on 01.04.2009, 00:00 by Richard L. Smith, Deborah A. Repert, Charles P. Hart
Water originating from coal-bed natural gas (CBNG) production wells typically contains ammonium and is often disposed via discharge to ephemeral channels. A study conducted in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming, documented downstream changes in CBNG water composition, emphasizing nitrogen-cycling processes and the fate of ammonium. Dissolved ammonium concentrations from 19 CBNG discharge points ranged from 95 to 527 μM. Within specific channels, ammonium concentrations decreased with transport distance, with subsequent increases in nitrite and nitrate concentrations. Removal efficiency, or uptake, of total dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) varied between channel types. DIN uptake was greater in the gentle-sloped, vegetated channel as compared to the incised, steep, and sparsely vegetated channel and was highly correlated with diel patterns of incident light and dissolved oxygen concentration. In a larger main channel with multiple discharge inputs (n = 13), DIN concentrations were >300 μM, with pH > 8.5, after 5 km of transport. Ammonium represented 25−30% of the large-channel DIN, and ammonium concentrations remained relatively constant with time, with only a weak diel pattern evident. In July 2003, the average daily large-channel DIN load was 23 kg N day−1 entering the Powder River, an amount which substantially increased the total Powder River DIN load after the channel confluence. These results suggest that CBNG discharge may be an important source of DIN to western watersheds, at least at certain times of the year, and that net oxidation and/or removal is dependent upon the extent of contact with sediment and biomass, type of drainage channel, and time of day.