Microbes could improve fracking clean-up

Research findings by the US Geological Survey (USGS) have indicated that bacteria in produced water could improve the way fluid from shale gas operations is handled and reused.

The study found that bacteria may be useful in breaking down contaminants in produced water. The findings could have "important implications" for energy companies, according to the USGS report.

"Microbial activity detected in these samples could turn out to be an advantage by contributing to the degradation of organic compounds present in the produced waters. Potentially, microbes could also serve to help mitigate the effects of organic contaminants during the disposal or accidental release of produced waters," the report said.

The USGS studied 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania. Large differences in the organic geochemistry including petroleum products and microbiology such as bacteria populations of the produced waters were "striking findings of the study," USGS reported.

USGS microbiologist and lead author of the study, Denise Akob, said: "Some wells appeared to be hotspots for microbial activity. But this was not predicted by well location, depth, or salinity. The presence of microbes seemed to be associated with concentrations of specific organic compounds -- for example, benzene or acetate -- and the length of time that the well was in production."

The researchers speculated that increased microbial activity in water with high levels of organic compounds could prove useful in future efforts to clean up fracking accidents.

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