Endocrine-Disrupting Activities and Organic Contaminants Associated with Oil and Gas Operations in Wyoming Groundwater

  • Christopher D. Kassotis
  • Danh C. Vu
  • Phuc H. Vo
  • Chung-Ho Lin
  • Jennifer N. Cornelius-Green
  • Sharyle Patton
  • Susan C. NagelEmail author


Unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) operations couple horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to access previously inaccessible fossil fuel deposits. Hydraulic fracturing, a common form of stimulation, involves the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals, and sand to fracture the target layer and release trapped natural gas and/or oil. Spills and/or discharges of wastewater have been shown to impact surface, ground, and drinking water. The goals of this study were to characterize the endocrine activities and measure select organic contaminants in groundwater from conventional oil and gas (COG) and UOG production regions of Wyoming. Groundwater samples were collected from each region, solid-phase extracted, and assessed for endocrine activities (estrogen, androgen, progesterone, glucocorticoid, and thyroid receptor agonism and antagonism), using reporter gene assays in human endometrial cells. Water samples from UOG and conventional oil areas exhibited greater ER antagonist activities than water samples from conventional gas areas. Samples from UOG areas tended to exhibit progesterone receptor antagonism more often, suggesting there may be a UOG-related impact on these endocrine activities. We also report UOG-specific contaminants in Pavillion groundwater extracts, and these same chemicals at high concentrations in a local UOG wastewater sample. A unique suite of contaminants was observed in groundwater from a permitted drinking water well at a COG well pad and not at any UOG sites; high levels of endocrine activities (most notably, maximal estrogenic activity) were noted there, suggesting putative impacts on endocrine bioactivities by COG. As such, we report two levels of evidence for groundwater contamination by both UOG and COG operations in Wyoming.



The authors greatly thank Deborah Thomas for conducting many of the water sample collection reported herein and for many helpful discussions regarding the region. The authors express wholehearted thanks to the many Wyoming residents who welcomed our team onto their property to allow us to sample water for the analyses reported herein. Additionally, many thanks to Katelyn Cinnamon, Brittany Parmenter, Kara Klemp, Leighton McCabe, Annie Maas, Sierra Baxter, and Jiahao Hu for helping to process water samples upon receipt in our laboratory. Many thanks to Donald P. McDonnell for the generous gift of the following plasmids: pSG5-AR, 2XC3ARETKLuc, 3XERETKLuc, CMV-β-Gal, pcDNA3 PRB, 2XPRE-TK-Luc, pRST7-GR, and MMTV-luc, to Dennis Lubahn for CMV-AR1, to Dennis Lubahn, Elizabeth Wilson, and Michael Carey for PSA-Enh E4TATA-luc, and to Thomas Zoeller, Martin Privalsky, and Michael Goodson for pSG5-hTRβ1 and pGL4-TK-2X taDR4.


Project supported by funds provided by Coming Clean, Inc. (Brattleboro, Vermont), as well as STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement No. FP-91747101 awarded by the US EPA (CDK). The views and conclusions in this article represent the views of the authors but not necessarily the views of the EPA. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 5653 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forestry, School of Natural ResourcesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s HealthUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Commonweal, Health and Environment ProgramBolinasUSA

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