Fate and effects of drilling wastes in a shallow estuarine mesocosm

Maurice (Mo) Jones, The University of Texas School of Public Health


To address concerns expressed about the possible effect of drilling mud discharges on shallow, low-energy estuarine ecosystems, a 12 month study was designed to detect alterations in water quality and sediment geochemistry. Each drilling mud used in the study and sediments from the study site were analyzed in the laboratory for chemical and physical characteristics. Potential water quality impacts were simulated by the EPA-COE elutriation test procedure. Mud toxicity was measured by acute and chronic bioassays with Mysidopsis bahia, Mercenaria mercenaria, and Nereis virens. For the field study, a relatively pristine, shallow (1.2 m) estuary (Christmas Bay, TX) without any drilling activity for the last 30 years was chosen for the study site. After a three month baseline study, three stations were selected. Station 1 was an external control. At each treatment station (2, 3), mesocosms were constructed to enclose a 3.5 m$\sp3$ water column. Each treatment station included an internal control site also. Each in situ mesocosm, except the controls, was successively dosed at a mesocosm-specific dose (1:100; 1:1,000; or 1:10,000 v/v) with 4 field collected drilling muds (spud, nondispersed, lightly-treated, and heavily-treated lignosulfonate) in sequential order over 1.5 months. Twenty-four hours after each dose, water exchange was allowed until the next treatment. Station 3 was destroyed by a winter storm. After the last treatment, the enclosures were removed and the remaining sites monitored for 6 months. One additional site was similarly dosed (1:100 v/v) with clean dredged sediment from Christmas Bay for comparison between dredged sediments and drilling muds. Results of the analysis of the water samples and field measurements showed that water quality was impacted during the discharges, primarily at the highest dose (1:100 v/v), but that elevated levels of C, Cr (T,F), Cr$\sp{+3}$ (T, F), N, Pb, and Zn returned to ambient levels before the end of the 24 hour exposure period or immediately after water exchange was allowed (Al, Ba(T), Chlorophyll ABC, SS, %T). Barium, from the barite, was used as a geochemical tracer in the sediments to confirm estimated doses by mass balance calculations. Barium reached a maximum of 166x background levels at the high dose mesocosm. Barium levels returned to ambient or only slightly elevated levels at the end of the 6 month monitoring period due to sediment deposition, resuspension, and bioturbation. QA/QC results using blind samples consisting of lab standards and spiked samples for both water and sediment matrices were within acceptable coefficients of variation. In order to avoid impacts on water quality and sediment geochemistry in a shallow estuarine ecosystem, this study concluded that a minimal dilution of 1:1,000 (v/v) would be required in addition to existing regulatory constraints.

Subject Area

Environmental science|Toxicology|Ecology

Recommended Citation

Jones, Maurice (Mo), "Fate and effects of drilling wastes in a shallow estuarine mesocosm" (1993). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9401774.