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Water-Resources Investigations Report 02–4060

Surface-Water Characteristics and Quality on the Osage Reservation, Osage County, Oklahoma, 1999

By Marvin M. Abbott and Robert L. Tortorelli


Prepared in cooperation with the Osage Tribal Council, U.S. Department of Energy, and Bureau of Indian Affairs


This report is available as a pdf.



Concern about the effects of early oil-industry practices of surface disposal of produced-brine water prompted an investigation of the surface-water quality on the Osage Reservation. About 38,600 oil wells have been drilled on the Osage Reservation since drilling began in 1896.

The Osage Reservation comprises three major drainage basins. The Caney River Basin is in the northeast, the Bird Creek Basin is in the southeast, and the Salt Creek Basin in the west. Variations in streamflow on the Osage Reservation during a year primarily result from variations in the quantity and frequency of rainfall, evapotranspiration, and reservoir operations. Most streams do not flow during low rainfall periods in late summer, early fall, and in winter. Percent of mean annual discharge is largest during March through June, averaging 54 to 62 percent and smallest during December, January, July, and August, averaging only 14 to 21 percent. The basin areas of Caney River in the reservation (251 square miles), Salt Creek (273 square miles), and Sand Creek (227 square miles) are about the same and the basin areas of the Bird Creek Basin (418 square miles) and Hominy Creek Basin (383 square miles) are similar in area.

One hundred forty surface-water sites were sampled once during either February, March, or August 1999. The surfacedrainage areas, incremental basins, between sample sites along a stream, range in size from 0.26 to 123 square miles with a median of 8.6 square miles. Total number of oil wells upgradient of the sample sites is 31,432 or 80 percent of the total in the reservation. The total number of oil wells in the Caney River Basin in the reservation (2,975 wells), Salt Creek Basin (4,619 wells), and Sand Creek Basin (3,928 wells) are about the same and the total number of oil wells in the Bird Creek Basin (8,858 wells) and Hominy Creek Basin (7,842 wells) are similar. The number of oil wells per square mile in the incremental basins ranges from 0.86 to 154. Surface-water quality monitoring had been conducted previously at two sites included in this study. Dissolved chloride concentrations for the two samples collected during 1999 were equaled or exceeded at both sites by the historical data. There is no statistically significant difference between the distribution of the dissolved chloride concentrations from the surface water and nearby ground-water samples. The surface-water quality samples had significantly lesser concentrations of dissolved solids, sulfate, and nitrite plus nitrate as nitrogen than the groundwater samples.

Chloride yield, reported in tons per day per square mile, is the chloride load divided by the basin area upstream of the sample site. The mean of the chloride yields for all the samples was 0.07 ton per day per square mile. Many sample locations where yields were greater than 0.07 ton per day per square mile were areas where dissolved chloride concentrations from surfacewater samples were greater than 250 milligrams per liter in an earlier water-quality investigation.

An investigation of possible relations between the surfacewater quality data and the oil-well construction data for the incremental basins and for 1-mile radial distance upstream in the incremental basins was conducted. The oil-well data also were grouped by time periods of activity into pre-1930, 1930 to 1970, and post-1970. These groups attempt to account for differences in industry drilling and producing practices associated with various periods. No statistically significant correlations were found between the surface-water quality data and the oilwell construction data.




Purpose and scope

Description of the study area


Streamflow characteristics

Drainage basins

Water quality

Historical water-quality data

Summary statistics of surface-water quality

Comparison of surface-water-quality and ground-water-quality data

Comparison of surface-water quality and oil well data


Selected references

Supplemental information

Delineation of basin boundaries

Oil-industry well data

Water-quality sampling procedures

Water-quality analyses . . . . . . . . .

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For sale by:


U.S. Geological Survey,

Information Services

Box 25286, Denver Federal Center

Denver, CO 80225


District Chief
U.S. Geological Survey
202 NW 66 St., Bldg. 7
Oklahoma City, OK 73116


For more information about the USGS and its products: Telephone: 1-888-ASK-USGS World Wide Web: http://www.usgs.gov/


or access the USGS Water Resources of Oklahoma home page at:  http://ok.water.usgs.gov/.

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