Liquid wastes in unprecedented quantities are expected to be injected below the land surface because of recent stringent controls on disposal to streams. Some of the possible consequences of waste injection are (1) groundwater pollution, (2) surface-water pollution, (3) changes in rock permeability, (4) subsidence, (5) earthquakes, and (6) mineral-resource pollution. Although much work has been done to predict some of the effects, the current state of knowledge is not adequate to estimate them accurately. Theory regarding (a) dispersion, (b) nonlinear relations between rock stress and strain, and (c) interrelations of hydraulics, heat, chemistry, and rock mechanics at macroscale is especially deficient for application to the waste problem. Advances in the chemical thermodynamics and kinetics of geochemistry may provide improved technology.
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This publication consists of papers based on oral presentations at a symposium of the same name co-sponsored by the United States Geological Survey and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. A wide range of technical issues are covered, as well as regulatory and liability concerns. Documentation of two areas in Colorado where earthquakes had resulted from subsurface fluid injection set the stage for modern debates regarding possible similar results elsewhere. A wide range of fluid compositions are subject to subsurface waste disposal. The largest volumes are brines separated during the production of oil and gas wells, but acid-water and industrial wastes of all types can be disposed in significant quantities in local areas. Large hydraulic fracture treatments never recover all of the injected fluids, and the chemical additives in the fluid that remains underground can be a concern. The subsurface injection of radioactive waste is a topic for three of the papers. The possible need for sequestration of carbon dioxide was not a significant concern at the time and was not covered, but many of the papers provide insight into the issues related to modern proposals. When fluids are injected under pressure into subsurface aquifers, they interact in numerous ways. The fluids can potentially migrate for long distances and potentially interfere with other uses for the native aquifer fluids. If the aquifer cannot transport all of the fluids away, the buildup in pressure can cause fracturing of the rock. Differences in composition between the injected and native fluids can cause chemical reactions to occur; in some cases these can be desirable in that they can immobilize certain solutes in mineral form. The long-term environmental consequences are a common theme in many of the papers because of the recognition that the disposed fluids would become a permanent fixture in subsurface aquifers and could have long-term consequences for their future utilization.