Welcome to Avner Vengosh Research Group web site!
The major theme of this research group is the elucidation of magnitude and mechanisms of water quality degradation and impacts on ecosystems and human health. The geochemical and isotopic variations are used as natural “fingerprints” for tracing the origin, migration, and fate of contaminants in the environment.
Lab News and events:
June 10, 2016: A new study that presents evidence for leaking of coal ash ponds in the Southeastern U.S. was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study examines possible leaking of coal ash ponds from 7 coal ash pond sites in Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky and 14 sites in North Carolina. We used geochemical and isotope tracers to demonstrate that all of the investigated sites are leaking to both surface water and one site also to shallow groundwater. In some cases, the impacted water had also elevated levels of contaminants above the EPA drinking and ecological standards, causing direct contamination of surface water and shallow groundwater. The study is based on systematic sampling and analysis of seepages, surface water, and shallow groundwater relative upstream background water and using sensitive geochemical fingerprints that allow the detection of contaminants that were originated from coal ash. We used the boron and strontium isotope fingerprints to delineate the source of contamination and verify their link to coal ash ponds. In North Carolina we used NC-DEQ database for groundwater samples collected and analyzed between 2010 and 2015. The data show that out of 165 monitoring wells, 65 were impacted with high boron levels and 49 had high contaminants levels that are typical of coal ash ponds. This is one of fist attempts to conduct a large scale evaluation of the risks of coal ash ponds to waterways and shallow groundwater in the southeast U.S. Duke press release is presented here. The paper was aired in WUNC (NPR) and WRAL and published in several media and news papers, including Winston Salem Journal, Charlotte Observer, Fredricksburg, Forbes, The Daily Progress, News and Observer, Undark, Environmental Leader, Atlanta Journal, Bay Journal.
May 18, 2016: Avner Vengosh visited NewTown in Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, North Dakota and met with tribal and community college members to discuss the outcome of the study on oil brine spills in North Dakota and implications on the environment and human health. The meetings were covered by local media including Oil Patch Dispatch, Bismarck Tribune, and local TV stations – the KXnew and KMOT-TV . the presentation was recorded and presented by North Dakota Resource Council. For more on community empowerment and conversation see the article “Facing Fracking Fears, Tribal Advocate Finds Affirmation in Water Contaminant Study” by Ben Young Landis.
May 2, 2016: A new study that presents a new application for age-dating soil impacted by oil and gas wastewater spills was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. When Ra-bearing oil and gas wastewater is released to the environment, radium is retained to the impacted soil and sediments. The study presents three independent age-dating methods based on the decay and ingrowth of radium isotopes and their progeny: 226Ra/210Pb, 228Ra/226Ra, and 228Ra/228Th. The different time scales of decay and ingrowth of these isotopes provides a new tool that could enable scientists to distinguish spill derived from recent unconventional oil and gas operations from older spill events, originated from conventional oil and gas legacy. The study was reported in Duke press release, and published in several media outlets, including Science Daily, Science Codex, Environmental Research Web,
April 27, 2016: A new study on oil and gas wastewater spills in North Dakota was published in Environmental Science and Technology. This paper is the first to systematically examine the chemistry and quality of brine spills in areas of unconventional oil extraction in the Bakken region. The major take away points of this paper are (1) in addition to the high salts content, the Bakken produced waters have high levels of inorganic contaminants such as selenium, ammonium, and vanadium; (2) these inorganic contaminants are resilient in the environment and can be detected in spill water even a few years after the spill events; (3) the strontium isotope ratios of the Bakken brines are different from the composition of local surface water and groundwater and thus strontium isotopes can be used as a powerful tool to monitor and delineate brine spills in North Dakota; and (4) radium radionuclides are retained from the spill water to the soil and sediments in spill sites, causing accumulation of radium and decay products in the soil. The migration and dilution of the spill brines in the environment further intensify the radium mobilization to the soil, and high radium was observed in soil located downstream from the original spill sites. Duke press release is described here. Numerous media outlets reported the study, including Great Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune, KFYR-TV, CBS News, ZME Science, Inside Climate, Science Daily, U.S. News and World Reports, Chemical & Engineering News, Billings Gazette, Oil Price, Digital Journal, Energy Voice, Eco-watch, TruthOut, , Alternet, the Dickinson Press, Petro Industry News,
January 2016: A new paper by Schlesinger and Vengosh entiled “Global Boron Cycle in the Anthropocene” was published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles.
December 2015: Avner Vengosh gave a presentation on the environmental effects of unconventional energy development in the Golan Height, Israel. Vengosh also visited a rig that is part of exploration that attempts to tap hydrocarbons from unconventional resources in the Golan Height.
December 3, 2015: A cover story in Energywire: Marcellus researchers expand focus to other fracking hot spots
October 14-15, 2015: The Second Water-Energy in China workshop was held in Duke Kunshan campus at Kunshan, China. More than 100 participants from China, the US, and Israel attended the workshop that addressed different topics — science, engineering, policy — related to the water-energy nexus in China. For more details on the workshop see here. For the program, list of speakers, and their presentation see the workshop web site.
September 20, 2015: Avner Vengosh gave a Plenary Keynote presentation on “An overview of the risks to water resources from unconventional energy exploration and hydraulic fracturing” at the opening night of the 15th EuCheM International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment, Leipzig, Germany.
September 15, 2015: A new study examines the water use and volume of flowback and produced water generated from hydraulic fracturing. The paper “Water footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing” was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. The study is the first to integrate several databases sources to generate a comprehensive evaluation of the water use, water use intensity (normalized to the energy utilized), flowback and produced water generation, and flowback and produced water intensity. Duke press release is posted here. The American Chemical Society press release is here. The study was reported by numerous news clips including Nature World News, R&D Magazine, Triangle Business Journal, High Country News, WaterWorld, and Natural Gas Report. The paper is posted here:Water Footprint of Hydraulic Fracturing_EST_Letters.
The paper was selected for the cover page of Environmental Science and Technology Letters.
September 2, 2015: A new paper on the occurrence and distribution of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study provide systematic evaluation of the levels of radionuclides in coals from the three major basins in the US and their coal combustion residues (coal ash). The study established a formula to predict the levels of radium in coal ash based on the uranium and thorium contents of the parent coal. The study also explores the environmental and human health risks associated with the emission of coal ash particles with relatively elevated radium and lead-210 levels. Duke press release is presented here. The study was reported by numerous news clips including the Climate Progress, WNCN TV, Charlotte Observer, Winston-Salem Journal, Anence France Presse, RT, and Science World Report. The paper is posted here: NORM in coal and coal ash_EST
August 10, 2015: Avner Venter talks with Katie Burke on hydraulic fracturing and water quality. American Scientist, Spotlight, interview with Katie L. Burke. Audio Exclusive: An Interview with Avner Vengosh
July 29, 2015: Avner Vengosh talks on radioactivity in groundwater from North Carolina: Interviewed by Eileen Park, WNCN
July 13, 2015: Avner Vengosh Elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has been elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). GSA fellowships are awarded annually to scientists who have been recognized by their peers as making significant contributions to the field of geology through published research, public outreach, and the training of graduate students. In selecting Vengosh for the honor, the GSA cited his “research contributions in isotope and environmental geochemistry, including seminal studies in the area of energy development and water quality” and his role as “an innovator in methodological development of boron isotope measurements and their use in solving hydrogeochemical and environmental problems.” A prolific researcher with more than 100 peer-reviewed studies to his credit, Vengosh is widely cited for his groundbreaking development of isotopic “fingerprinting” technologies that allow scientists to identify and measure water contaminants and track them to their source. His research has played a central role in assessing – and helping find solutions to – potential risks to water resources posed by a wide range of causes, including salinization; coal ash residue; oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing; oil and gas wastewater disposal; agricultural contamination; and mountaintop coal mining runoff. As part of his team’s research on the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, they have collected and analyzed more than 1,000 water samples from drinking water wells and surface water in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, California and North Dakota.Vengosh has also used his forensic tracers to identify the sources of natural radioactivity in groundwater supplies in the Middle East and radon in groundwater in the southeastern United States, and to identify links between naturally occurring water contaminants, local geology and human health in Ethiopia, Morocco and Vietnam.A study he led identifying high levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in shale gas wastewater was named the best science paper of 2013 by the editors of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Another study, providing the first comprehensive review of potential risks to water resources posed by unconventional shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing, was selected as one of the best peer-reviewed studies of 2014 by the editors of the same journal. In recognition of his expertise, Vengosh has twice been invited to testify before Congress on the water-quality impacts of coal ash contamination.
May 18-19, 2015: Avner Vengosh participated and presented at the National Academy of Science workshop on “Chemistry and Engineering of Shale Gas and Tight Oil Resource Development” at Washington, DC. For more information on the workshop see this link.
April 16, 2015: A critical review paper that provided the first comprehensive review of the potential risks to water resources posed by unconventional shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing has been selected as one of the best peer-reviewed papers of 2014 by the editors of the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T). The paper “A Critical Review of the Risks to Water Resources from Unconventional Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States” was chosen as 2nd runner-up in the Environmental Policy category. It was selected for the honor from among more than 1,700 peer-reviewed papers published in ES&T in 2014. This is the second year in a row a paper by Vengosh’s team has been selected as one of ES&T’s top papers. The paper “Impacts of shale gas wastewater disposal on water quality in western Pennsylvania” was selected as the journal’s Best Science Paper of 2013. For more information see Duke Press release. The paper is posted here: ES&T Review on hydraulic fracturing.
January 21, 2015: A new paper on the direct measurement of the boron isotope fractionation factor between boron species was published in Earth and Planetary Science Letter. The boron isotopic composition of calcium carbonate skeletons is a promising proxy method for reconstructing paleo-ocean pH and atmospheric CO2 from the geological record. Although the boron isotope methodology has been used extensively over the past two decades to determine ancient ocean-pH, the actual value of the boron isotope fractionation factor (epsilon) between the two main dissolved boron species, 11B(OH)3 and 10B(OH)4–, has remained uncertain. The new study provides, for the first time, an independent empirical fractionation factor (26.0 ±1.0 permil; 25◦C), determined by direct measurements of B(OH)3 in seawater and other solutions. Boric acid was isolated by preferential passage through a reverse osmosis membrane under controlled pH conditions. The revised methodology lays the foundation for a more accurate determination of ocean paleo-pH through time. The paper is posted here: Boron isotope fractionation factor
January 14, 2015: A new study on the occurrence of iodide, bromide, and ammonium in oil and gas wastewater was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study shows high levels of iodide and ammonium in both hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water from conventional oil and gas wells. The high correlation of ammonium to chloride suggest that these contaminants are geogenic and their presence in formation waters is controlled by the composition of the formation rocks. Elevated levels of iodide and ammonium (up to 50 times the EPA regulation for ammonium) were found also in effluents that are discharge to waterways from there disposal sites in PA and a spill in WV that cause direct contamination of the associated streams and rivers. Duke press release of the study is posted here. The study was reported by numerous news clips including the Daily Climate, Think Progress, Scientific American, Science news, Akron Beacon Journal, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, News and Observer, Science News, Water World, Digital Journal, Newsroom America, Eagleford Texas, Salon, Environmental Working Group, and Charleston Gazette. The paper is posted here: es504654n_iodide and ammonium
NSF reports on this study by the news clip (see the second item).
January 9, 2015: A new study on the occurrence of arsenic in groundwater and the exposure of local residents in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam was published in Science of Total Environment. The study shows high level of arsenic (up to 1,000 ppb) in groundwater adjacent to the Mekong River. High arsenic was found particularly in reduced and low-saline groundwater. Arsenic content in nails collected from local residents was significantly correlated to As in drinking water (R=0.56, p<0.001). Survey data show that the ratio of arsenic in nail to arsenic in water varied among residents, reflecting differential arsenic bioaccumulation in specific exposed sub-populations. The paper is posted here Arsenic exposure in Mekong Delta.
December 16, 2014: A new study on the use of boron and strontium isotopes as tracers for the impact of coal ash contaminants on the environment was published in Environmental Science & Technology. The study examined the boron and strontium isotopic fingerprints of coal ash originated from coals of different basins in the USA as well as specific case studies where coal ash has impacted the environment: the TVA coal ash spill in TN, the discharge of coal ash effluents to waterways in NC and impacted water resources. The study found the integration of boron and strontium isotopes with water geochemistry could provide a unique and powerful tool for delineating and quantifying the impact of coal ash on the environment. Duke press release of the paper is here. The paper is posted here: es503746v_coal ash tracers.
November 7, 2014: Duke University and Duke Kunshan University (DKU) water-energy workshop, Fairmont Hotel, Kunshan, China, chaired by Avner Vengosh and Marc Deshusses. Over 50 participants attend the water-energy workshop held along Yangcheng Lake, in Kunshan. The workshop addressed key interdisciplinary issues related to water and energy development in China, including oil and gas, coalbed methane, and unconventional shale gas and hydraulic fracturing. The workshop presented data on water availability and quality in China, energy development, environmental effects of the different energy development particularly, derived from hydraulic fracturing, water law, water policy, and treatment technologies. The workshop aimed to explore possible research networks and collaboration of Duke and DKU faculty with Chinese colleagues engaged with water and energy research. Speakers included scientists from different academic institutions in China and Duke faculty addressing both scientific, engineering, and policy aspects. For the program and details see here.
October 20, 2014: A new study of tracing hydraulic fracturing fluids in the environment by using boron and lithium isotopes was published in Environmental Science and Technology. This is the first study to use boron and lithium isotopic fingerprints for delineating hydraulic fracturing fluids in contaminated water and distinguish their impacts from other sources of contamination. The distinguished geochemical signature of flowback water is hypothesized to be derived from mobilization of boron and lithium from exchangeable sites on clay minerals during hydraulic fracturing process. Duke press release of the paper is here. NSF funded the project and also issued a press release. The study was reported by numerous news clips including News and Records, Think Progress, Laboratory Equipment, Headlines and Global news, Environmental leaders, News and Observer, Water World, and Earth Magazine. The paper is posted es5032135.
September 24, 2014: A new study on the potential formation of highly carcinogenic disinfection byproduct from hydraulic fracturing fluids diluted by river water was published in Environmental Science and Technology. The study shows that even a small fraction, as low as 0.01 percent up to 0.1 percent of hydraulic fracturing fluids in disinfected river water that is used for drinking could result in the formation of disinfection byproducts in drinking water utilities located downstream from disposal or spill sites of hydraulic fracturing fluids. ACS press release of the study is here. The paper is post here.es5028184
September 15, 2014: A new Duke study on stray gas contamination in drinking water wells located near shale gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania and Texas was published in the Proceedings of national Academy of Science of the USA. The new study established new geochemical methodology based on the integration of noble gas geochemistry and hydrocarbons ratios and isotopes to distinguish between naturally occurring methane flux to shallow aquifers and methane contamination derived directly from leaking from shale gas wells. The paper is posted here: PNAS-2014-Darrah-1322107111. More information on the paper is in Duke press release. The study was covered by hundreds of news clips from all over the world including the New York Times, USA Today, BBC, the Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Bloomberg, the Guardian, Washington Post, Weather ford Democrat, Dallas morning News, Public News Service , Salon, as well as radio stations including NPR WUNC, the John Gambling Show, NYC, and Hoppy Kercheval of Metronews, West Virginia Radio Network.
August 8-12, 2014: Future hydraulic fracturing and shale gas exploration in North Carolina: The News and Observer article on research at Duke on hydraulic fracturing and editorial on the lack of North Carolina officials to use the scientific data. Also Vengosh’s interview to Capital Tonight, Time Warner Cable News is linked here.
July 29, 2014: A Response to Comment on “High Naturally Occurring Radioactivity in Fossil Groundwater from the Middle East” was published in Environmental Science and Technology (es501140b)
June 26 – July 7, 2014: Avner Vengosh visit to South Africa as part of a water-quality baseline research at the Karoo Basin. Dr. Vengosh gave public presentations at the University of Cape Town and University of Pretoria and also participated in two-days workshop entitled “Review of risks to water resources from unconventional gas exploration and production in South Africa and water science plan for unconventional gas development (Workshop-outcomes-unconventional-gas-risks to water).
May 1, 2014: Avner Vengosh presents a keynote talk at the EGU meeting in Vienna, Austria: “Risks to Water Resources from Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United Sates”
March 7, 2014: A new paper “A Critical Review of the Risks to Water Resources from Unconventional Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States” was published in Environmental Science &Technology. This paper provides a critical review of all available literature on the possible risks of water resources from shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing. This is one of the few attempts to provide a comprehensive and objective evaluation of the state of knowledge with respect the possible effects of shale gas and hydraulic fracturing on water resources in the US. (es405118y)
March 6, 2014: Our study on the environmental effects of shale Gas wastewater Named ES&T’s Best Science Paper for 2013 (!). Out of 1,600 papers published in ES&T during 2013, the journal editors selected our paper. The ES&T announcement and interview with the paper authors Nat Warner and Avner Vengosh is presented here. Duke press release is presented here. A link to the paper is provided here.
February 5, 2014: Avner Vengosh giving a talk on the “Myths and Reality of Water Contamination from Fracking” at Duke Center for International Studies.
December 31, 2013: The paper on elevated level of radioactivity in hydtraulic fracturing fluids and radium accumulation on sediments in a disposal site in PA was selected for the Top 11 Energy & Environmental Infographics of 2013.
December 24, 2013: A new study on the beneficial use of blending hydraulic fracturing fluids with acid mine drainage shows that much of the radioactivity of flowback water from shale gas would be reduced due to co-precipitation of Sr-barite minerals. The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology es_HF-AMD mix. See Duke Press Release. The study was reported Nature World News, NPR-PA, ABC-news, NSF news, Brazil Sun, and Water World.
November 5, 2013: A new study on arsenic occurrence in toenail keratin suggests that a person’s exposure to arsenic in drinking water can be detected by simple measurements of arsenic in the nails. The study was published in Journal Of Exposure Science And Environmental Epidemiology. See Duke press release of the study.
October 2, 2013: A new study finds elevated levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in river water and sediments at a site where treated water from oil and gas operations is discharged into a western Pennsylvania creek. The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. See Duke Press release. The study was reported by ACS web site, USA-Today, The Guardian Bloomberg Scientific American the Voice of Russia radio and many others. A copy of the paper is here.EST_impacts of shale gas wastewater
August 15, 2013: A new study characterizes the carbon, sulfur and strontium isotopic imprints of effluents from mountaintop mining and their affect on streams in West Virginia. The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology. See Duke press release. The study was reported by Appalachian Voices. Get paper here (EST_MTM isotopes)
June 24, 2013: A new study finds Higher Levels of Stray Gases Found in Water Wells Near Shale Gas Sites. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS). See Duke press release. Get paper (PNAS_Jacksonetal2013).
May 30, 2013: Avner Vengosh presents “Risks of shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing to water resources in the US” at “Workshop on Risks of Unconventional Shale Gas Development” hosted by the National Academy of Science. The presentation See presentation here.
May 15, 2013: Study Finds No Evidence of Water Contamination from Shale Gas Drilling in Arkansas published in Applied Geochemistry . See Duke press release. Also AP report published in the Washington Post.
February 16, 2013: Vengosh interviewed by WCNC-TV on water contamination by coal ash ponds in North Carolina.
November 6, 2012: Geological Society America meeting, Pardee Keynote Sessions – Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts on Water Resources in the United States , Charlotte, North Carolina.
Duke team at GSA 2012; From left: Cidney Christie (MEM, 2012), Alissa While (B.Sc., 2011), Brit Merola (PhD student), Nat Warner (PhD student), David Vinson (PhD, 2011), Avner Vengosh (EOS faculty), and Tom Darrah (Research Scientist)
November 5, 2012: Radioactive Water Threatens Middle East . Spiegel Online International, Germany.
October 18, 2012: Avner Vengosh to Testify on Environmental Impacts of Energy Production at Oct. 18 Congressional Briefing (Abstract_energy_AERC_Vengosh ). The extend presentation was presented at the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) symposium and posted on-line.
October 15, 2012: High Levels of Coal Ash Contaminants Found in N.C. Waters: A new paper entitled “The Impact of Coal Combustion Residue Effluent on Water Resources: A North Carolina Example” was published in Environmental Science and Technology (see paper here).
July 9, 2012: A new paper entitled ” Geochemical evidence for possible natural migration of Marcellus Formation brine to shallow aquifers in Pennsylvania” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS). One of the many media coverage and an interview with WRAL-TV is presented here.
March 10, 2012: Fieldwork to study water quality in Vietnam
Seminar at the Faculty of Environmental Science, University of Science, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
March 18, 2012: Fracking in New Zealand: Vengosh interviewed to 60 minutes New Zealand.
Vengosh presents the fracking research at the marae (welcome) Māori ceremony; Gisbone, North Island, New Zealand
January 9, 2012: Reynolds Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University
Environmental and social implications of Hydraulic fracturing and shale gas drilling in the United States: An integrative workshop for the evaluation of the state of science and policy (frackingflyer3rdP)
October 9-12, 2011: Presentations at the 2011 American Geological Society (GSA) meeting (Minneapolis, MN):
Vengosh, A., Merola, B.R., Ruhl, L., Warner, N., Lindberg, T., Di Giulio, R.T. (2011) Strontium isotope variations as a proxy for selenium contamination from mountaintop mining. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 43, No. 5, p. 345.
Ruhl. L., Vengosh, A., Dwyer, G. (2011). Geochemical charactarization of the environmental impacts of coal combustion products: lessons from the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 409.
Warner, N. Osborn, S., Jackson, R., Vengosh, A. (2011). Boron and strontium isotopes as sensitive tracers for indicating potential shallow groundwater contamination from Marcellus Formation brines. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 566.
Osborn, S., Warner, N., Vengosh, A., Jackson, R. (2011). Dissolved gas geochemistry of shallow groundwater systems in Pennsylvania and New York, associated with natural gas extraction. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 567.
September 30, 2011 – PhD students Laura Ruhl and Brittany Merola win international awards
(more about IAGC fellow see here).
Vengosh receives the Fellow of International Association of Geochemistry Award award at the International Geochemistry Symposium – Applied Isotope Geochemisty (AIG-9), Tarragona, Spain, September 2011.