New genus of bacteria found living inside hydraulic fracturing wells by Pam Frost Gorder, September 5, 2016, phys.org
Ohio State University researchers and their colleagues have identified a new genus of bacteria living inside hydraulic fracturing wells. These jars contain samples of “produced water fluids” — the fluid that is collected at the surface of a hydraulic fracturing well after fracturing — from wells in Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The fluids are orange because they contain large amounts of iron that oxidizes when the fluids are brought to the surface. By analyzing the genomes of microbes in the water, the researchers are piecing together the existence of microbial communities inside the wells. Credit: Rebecca Daly, courtesy of The Ohio State University.
Researchers analyzing the genomes of microorganisms living in shale oil and gas wells have found evidence of sustainable ecosystems taking hold there—populated in part by a never-before-seen genus of bacteria they have dubbed “Frackibacter.”
The new genus is one of the 31 microbial members found living inside two separate fracturing wells, Ohio State University researchers and their colleagues report in the Sept. 5 online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology.
Even though the wells were hundreds of miles apart and drilled in different kinds of shale formations, the microbial communities inside them were nearly identical, the researchers discovered.
Almost all the microbes they found had been seen elsewhere before, and many likely came from the surface ponds that energy companies draw on to fill the wells.
[Industry and AER have insisted for years that bacteria in surface water used in drilling and injected for enhanced recovery and fracturing do not survive downhole, not even if introduced into aquifers. Refer to the two AER reports, bottom of this post]
But that’s not the case with the newly identified Candidatus Frackibacter, which may be unique to hydraulic fracturing sites, said Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology and biophysics at Ohio State.
In biological nomenclature, “Candidatus” indicates that a new organism is being studied for the first time using a genomic approach, not an isolated organism in a lab culture. The researchers chose to name the genus “Frackibacter” as a play on the word “fracking,” shorthand for “hydraulic fracturing.”
Candidatus Frackibacter prospered alongside the microbes that came from the surface, forming communities in both wells which so far have lasted for nearly a year.
“We think that the microbes in each well may form a self-sustaining ecosystem where they provide their own food sources,” Wrighton explained. “Drilling the well and pumping in fracturing fluid creates the ecosystem, but the microbes adapt to their new environment in a way to sustain the system over long periods.”
Ohio State University researchers and their colleagues have identified a new genus of bacteria living inside hydraulic fracturing wells. Here, “produced water fluid” — the fluid that is collected at the surface of a hydraulic fracturing well after fracturing — is being filtered. The fluid is orange because it contains large amounts of iron that oxidizes when the fluids are brought to the surface. By analyzing the genomes of microbes in the filtered water, the researchers are piecing together the existence of microbial communities inside the wells. Credit: Rebecca Daily, Courtesy of The Ohio State University.
By sampling fluids taken from the two wells over 328 days, the researchers reconstructed the genomes of bacteria and archaea living in the shale. To the researchers’ surprise, both wells—one drilled in Utica shale and the other drilled in Marcellus shale—developed nearly identical microbial communities.
In addition, the two wells are each owned by different energy companies that utilized different fracturing techniques. The two types of shale exist more than a mile and a half below ground, were formed millions of years apart, and contained different forms of fossil fuel. Yet one bacterium, Halanaerobium, emerged to dominate communities in both wells.
“We thought we might get some of the same types of bacteria, but the level of similarity was so high it was striking. That suggests that whatever’s happening in these ecosystems is more influenced by the fracturing than the inherent differences in the shale,” Wrighton said.
Wrighton and her team are still not 100 percent sure of the microbes’ origins. Some almost undoubtedly came from the ponds that provide water to the wells, she said. But other bacteria and archaea could have been living in the rock before drilling began, Candidatus Frackibacter among them.
Shale energy companies typically formulate their own proprietary recipes for the fluid they pump into wells to break up the rock and release oil or gas, explained Rebecca Daly, research associate in microbiology at Ohio State and lead author of theNature Microbiology paper. They all start with water and add other chemicals. Once the fluid is inside a well, salt within the shale leaches into it, making it briny.
The microorganisms living in the shale must tolerate high temperature, pressure and salinity, but this study suggests that salinity is likely the most important stressor on the microbes’ survival. Salinity forces the microbes to synthesize organic compounds called osmoprotectants to keep themselves from bursting. When the cells die, the osmoprotectants are released into the water, where other microbes can use them for protection themselves or eat them as food. In that way, salinity forced the microbes to generate a sustainable food source.
In addition to the physical constraints in the environment, the microbes also must protect themselves from viruses. The researchers reconstructed the genomes of viruses living inside the wells, and found genetic evidence that some bacteria were indeed falling prey to viruses, dying, and releasing osmoprotectants into the water.
Epifluorescence microscope image of Halanaerobium bacteria cells — one of the bacteria species which Ohio State researchers and their partners have discovered thriving in hydraulic fracturing wells. Credit: Michael Wilkins, courtesy of The Ohio State University.
By examining the genomes of the different microbes, the researchers found that the osmoprotectants were being eaten by Halanaerobium and Candidatus Frackibacter. In turn, these bacteria provided food for other microbes called methanogens, which ultimately produced methane.
To validate their findings from the field, the researchers grew the same microbes in the lab under similar conditions. The lab-grown microbes also produced osmoprotectants that were converted into methane—a confirmation that the researchers are on the right track to understanding what’s happening inside the wells.
One implication of the study is that methane produced by microbes living in shale wells could possibly supplement the wells’ energy output.
Wrighton and Daly described the amount of methane produced by the microbes as likely minuscule compared to the amount of oil and gas harvested from the shale even a year after initial fracturing.
But, they point out, there is a precedent in a related industry, that of coal-bed methane, to use microbes to greater advantage.
“In coal-bed systems they’ve shown that they can facilitate microbial life and increase methane yields,” Wrighton said. “As the system shifts over time to being less productive, the contribution of biogenic methane could become significantly higher in shale wells. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but it’s a possibility.”
In the meantime, research led by co-author Michael Wilkins, assistant professor of earth sciences and microbiology, has used genomics information to grow Candidatus Frackibacter in the lab and is further testing its ability to handle high pressure and salinity. [Emphasis added]
The Paper: Microbial metabolisms in a 2.5-km-deep ecosystem created by hydraulic fracturing in shales Nature Microbiology, Article number: 16146 (2016)
Hydraulic fracturing is the industry standard for extracting hydrocarbons from shale formations. Attention has been paid to the economic benefits and environmental impacts of this process, yet the biogeochemical changes induced in the deep subsurface are poorly understood. Recent single-gene investigations revealed that halotolerant microbial communities were enriched after hydraulic fracturing. Here, the reconstruction of 31 unique genomes coupled to metabolite data from the Marcellus and Utica shales revealed that many of the persisting organisms play roles in methylamine cycling, ultimately supporting methanogenesis in the deep biosphere. Fermentation of injected chemical additives also sustains long-term microbial persistence, while thiosulfate reduction could produce sulfide, contributing to reservoir souring and infrastructure corrosion. Extensive links between viruses and microbial hosts demonstrate active viral predation, which may contribute to the release of labile cellular constituents into the extracellular environment. Our analyses show that hydraulic fracturing provides the organismal and chemical inputs for colonization and persistence in the deep terrestrial subsurface.
Shale gas accounts for one-third of natural gas energy resources worldwide. It has been estimated that shale gas will provide half of the natural gas in the USA, annually, by 2040, with the Marcellus shale in the Appalachian Basin projected to produce three times more than any other formation1. Recovery of these hydrocarbons is dependent on hydraulic fracturing technologies, where the high-pressure injection of water and chemical additives generates extensive fractures in the shale matrix. Hydrocarbons trapped in tiny pore spaces are subsequently released and collected at the wellpad surface, together with a portion of the injected fluids that have reacted with the shale formation. The mixture of injected fluids and hydrocarbons collected is referred to as ‘produced fluids’.
Microbial metabolism and growth in hydrocarbon reservoirs has both positive and negative impacts on energy recovery. Whereas stimulation of methanogens in coal beds enhances energy recovery2, bacterial hydrogen sulfide production (‘reservoir souring’) decreases profits and contributes to corrosion and the risk of environmental contamination3. Additionally, biomass accumulation within newly generated fractures may reduce their permeability, decreasing natural gas recovery. Despite these potential microbial impacts, little is known about the function and activity of microorganisms in hydraulically fractured shale.
Initial work by our group and others4,5,6,7,8,9 used single marker gene analyses to identify microorganisms from several geographically distinct shale formations. These analyses showed similar halotolerant taxa in produced fluids several months after hydraulic fracturing. To assign functional roles to these organisms, we conducted metagenomic and metabolite analyses on input and produced fluids up to a year after hydraulic fracturing (HF) from two Appalachian basin shales, the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant (Utica) formations. Although an earlier metagenomic study examined shale-produced fluids10, the microbial communities were only sampled for nine days after HF. Here, we have reconstructed the first genomes from fractured shale, examining the microbial metabolisms sustained in these engineered, deep subsurface habitats over a period of 328 days. We provide evidence for metabolic interdependencies, and describe chemical and viral factors that control life in these economically important ecosystems. Our results show microbial degradation of chemical additives, the potential for microbially induced corrosion and the formation of biogenic methane, all of which have implications for the sustainability of energy extraction. [Emphasis added]
This work is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Dimensions of Biodiversity program, the Department of Energy and the Deep Carbon Observatory.
Among the study’s co-authors from Ohio State is Paula Mouser, principal investigator on the Dimensions of Biodiversity grant. Other co-principal investigators and co-authors include Wrighton, Wilkins and David Cole, professor of earth sciences and Ohio Research Scholar. Co-author David Hoytof the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory analyzed the compounds in the fluids that provided evidence of microbial metabolism.
Frackibacter-ia: Fracking wells found to be home to new genus of bacteria, The new bacteria has been named “Frackibacter” by Aristos Georgiou, September 5, 2016, International Business Times
Researchers analysing the genomes of microorganisms living in shale and oil gas wells have found evidence of a genus – the biological rank above species – of bacteria that has never been seen before.
According to the study conducted by scientists from Ohio State University and their colleagues, the new genus – which has been named “Frackibacter” as a play on the word “fracking”, or “hydraulic fracturing” – is one of 31 types of microbe found living inside two different fracking wells.
The results are published in the journal Nature Microbiology. After taking samples of fluids, the team found to their surprise that the microbial communities in the two separate wells studied were nearly identical, despite the fact that they were hundreds of miles apart and drilled into different types of shale rock formations.
“We think that the microbes in each well may form a self-sustaining ecosystem where they provide their own food sources,” Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology and biophysics at Ohio State, explained.
“Drilling the well and pumping in fracturing fluid creates the ecosystem, but the microbes adapt to their new environment in a way to sustain the system over long periods.
“We thought we might get some of the same types of bacteria, but the level of similarity was so high it was striking. That suggests that whatever’s happening in these ecosystems is more influenced by the fracturing than the inherent differences in the shale,” she said.
Most of the microbes the team found have been identified in other places before and likely came from the surface ponds that the fracking companies use to pump water into the wells. However, Wrighton thinks that Candidatus Frackibacter may be unique to hydraulic fracturing sites because of the special conditions that exist there. In bacterial nomenclature, “Candidatus”, denotes that the bacteria in question has not been studied as an isolated organism in a lab culture.
Where Frackibacter came from is still unclear, although the researchers suggest it could have been living in the rock before drilling began. So far, it has prospered alongside the microbes from the surface in sustainable ecosystems which have lasted almost a year. [Emphasis added]
New type of bacteria found in fracking wells by John Ross, September 5, 2016, The Australian
Scientists have found a hitherto unknown type of bacteria flourishing in fracking wells.
Researchers believe the new genus, which they have named Frackibacter, may have been living in underground rock long before hydraulic fracturing drilling exposed its existence.
The bacteria, revealed in the journal Nature Microbiology, are part of surprisingly similar bug communities found in two wells hundreds of kilometres apart.
“The microbes in each well may form self-sustaining ecosystems (that) provide their own food sources,” said Kelly Wrighton of Ohio State University.
“Drilling the well and pumping in fracturing fluid creates the ecosystem, but the microbes adapt to their new environment to sustain the system.”
The two wells were dug in different types of shale by different companies using different fracturing methods. The team sampled fluids taken from the wells over almost a year, and reconstructed the genomes of bacteria and other bugs they found. “The level of similarity was striking,” Dr Wrighton said.
“That suggests whatever’s happening in these ecosystems is more influenced by the fracturing than the inherent differences in the shale.”
The team believes many of the bugs came from surface ponds used to fill the wells. But some, including Frackibacter, appeared to have come from the shale about 2500m below the surface.
Fracking companies pump water and chemicals into wells to break up underground rock and release oil or gas. This also releases salt within the shale.
The team believes microorganisms living in the shale protect themselves from the saline water by synthesising organic compounds called “osmoprotectants”, which prevent them from drying out and bursting. When they die they release these compounds into the water where other microbes eat them. In other words, the threat of salinity forces the resident microbes to generate a sustainable food source.
The analysis found the osmoprotectants were being eaten by Frackibacter and another bacterium called Halanaerobium. They in turn provided food for other microbes called methanogens, which ultimately produced methane. The team says methane generated by microbes living in shale wells could supplement the companies’ energy output. It says coal seam gas extractors already use microbes to boost methane yields. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
Florida’s injection wells, for example, had been drilled into rock that was far more porous and fractured than scientists previously understood. “Geology is never what you think it is,” said Ronald Reese, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey in Florida who has studied the well failures there. “There are always surprises.” Other gaps have emerged between theories of how underground injection should work and how it actually does. Rock layers aren’t always neatly stacked as they appear in engineers’ sketches. They often fold and twist over on themselves. Waste injected into such formations is more likely to spread in lopsided, unpredictable ways than in a uniform cone. It is also likely to channel through spaces in the rock as pressure forces it along the weakest lines.
Petroleum engineers in Texas have found that when they pump fluid into one end of an oil reservoir to push oil out the other, the injected fluid sometimes flows around the reservoir, completely missing the targeted zone. “People are still surprised at the route that the injectate is taking or the bypassing that can happen,” said Jean-Philippe Nicot, a research scientist at the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology. Conventional wisdom says fluids injected underground should spread at a rate of several inches or less each year, and go only as far as they are pushed by the pressure inside the well. In some instances, however, fluids have travelled faster and farther than researchers thought possible.
In a 2000 case that wasn’t caused by injection but brought important lessons about how fluids could move underground, hydrogeologists concluded that bacteria-polluted water migrated horizontally underground for several thousand feet in just 26 hours, contaminating a drinking water well in Walkerton, Ontario, and sickening thousands of residents.
The fluids travelled 80 times as fast as the standard software model predicted was possible.
According to the model, vertical movement of underground fluids shouldn’t be possible at all, or should happen over what scientists call “geologic time”: thousands of years or longer. Yet a 2011 study in Wisconsin found that human viruses had managed to infiltrate deep aquifers, probably moving downward through layers believed to be a permanent seal.
According to a study published in April in the journal Ground Water, it’s not a matter of if fluid will move through rock layers, but when. Tom Myers, a hydrologist, drew on research showing that natural faults and fractures are more prevalent than commonly understood to create a model that predicts how chemicals might move in the Marcellus Shale, a dense layer of rock that has been called impermeable. The Marcellus Shale, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, is the focus of intense debate because of concerns that chemicals injected in drilling for natural gas will pollute water. Myers’ new model said that chemicals could leak through natural cracks into aquifers tapped for drinking water in about 100 years, far more quickly than had been thought.
In areas where there is hydraulic fracturing or drilling, Myers’ model shows, man-made faults and natural ones could intersect and chemicals could migrate to the surface in as little as “a few years, or less.” “It’s out of sight, out of mind now. But 50 years from now?” Myers said, referring to injected waste and the rock layers trusted to entrap it.
“Simply put, they are not impermeable.” [Emphasis added]
Researchers have made a genetic analysis of the microbes living deep inside a deposit of Marcellus Shale at a hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” site, and uncovered some surprises. They expected to find many tough microbes suited to extreme environments, such as those that derive from archaea, a domain of single-celled species sometimes found in high-salt environments, volcanoes, or hot springs. Instead, they found very few genetic biomarkers for archaea, and many more for species that derive from bacteria. They also found that the populations of microbes changed dramatically over a short period of time, as some species perished during the fracking operation and others became more abundant.
One—an as-yet-unidentified bacterium—actually prospered, and eventually made up 90 percent of the microbial population in fluids taken from the fracked well.
… When it comes to energy extraction, tiny microbes play a huge role, Mouser said. As it happens, the chemicals that companies pump into the ground along with water to help fracture shale and release petroleum contain carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous—in chemical formulations that microbes like to eat. So, left unchecked, the microbes in a fracking well can grow and reproduce out of control—so much so, that they may clog the fractures and block extraction, or foul the gas and oil with their waste, which contains sulfur. This is no news to oil companies, Mouser added.
They’ve long known about the microbes, and add biocides to the water to control the population. What isn’t known: exactly what kinds of microbes live there, and what altering their populations does to the environment. [Emphasis added]
2009 10: Risk to Water Wells of Pathogens in Drilling Fluids (Section 7: Reviewed Literature added November 2009) by Dr. Abimbola Abiola and Dr. Cathy Ryan for AER (then ERCB)
The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) is aware of the public concern regarding the presence of pathogenic microorganisms in surface waters used in drilling fluids and their potential impact on groundwater and/or water wells. The most common sources of water used in drilling fluids include dugouts, sloughs, small creeks, and beaver dams. As a result of public concerns, the ERCB retained the third-party expertise of Dr. Abimbola Abiola, microbiologist from Olds College, and Dr. Cathryn Ryan, hydrogeologist from the University of Calgary, to prepare a report on the abundance of pathogens in surface waters and evaluate whether pathogens in surface waters that are used in drilling fluids in Alberta have the ability to survive in or be transported through a groundwater system and to report their findings. The report is a professional opinion based on an extensive review of literature and professional experience and is written for a general public audience.
A summary of the key findings presented in their report is as follows:
1) The subsurface presents a hostile environment to surface water pathogens given its lower temperatures, lower oxygen levels, and fewer nutrients.
2) Pathogens can be introduced into surface waters through animal wastes, sewage, and industrial or agricultural effluents.
3) The types of pathogens typically found in Alberta surface waters are unlikely to survive the salt levels found in nontoxic drilling fluids.
4) Pathogen transport into the subsurface is unlikely, even over short distances, due to the typically low infiltration distance of drilling fluids from the wellbore. [Emphasis added]
2004 05 14: An Alberta Perspective on the Migration of Surface Water Pathogens to Groundwater Aquifers: A Literature Review and Brief Analysis by Tristan Goodman for AER (then Alberta Energy and Utilities Board), Environment Group
The following is an overview of the issues and conclusions found in the peer-reviewed literature on the migration of surface pathogens to groundwater aquifers. … In the case of this study, focus looks specifically at the potential for pathogen contamination of groundwater from drilling fluid used in the oil and gas industry in Alberta. The drilling fluids use untreated surface water. Concern has been express over the use of untreated water being used in drilling fluids and its potential to contaminate groundwater sources. …
In the case of the oil and gas industry migration of pathogens to groundwater would be anthropogenic because of the use of untreated water in drilling [and fracturing] fluids. No specific work has been conducted around the injection of bacteria.
The water that makes up the drilling fluid, is taken from sources in the local area. Such sources include local rivers, lakes smaller bodies of water or groundwater and will contain some measure of pathogens. Despite the act of place pathogens into close proximity to groundwater aquifers the life expectancy of pathogens, chemicals reaction of pathogens with soil and the filtration rates all prevent pathogen migration beyond a few metres. [The EUB did not include the Walkerton Case in their review, or that oil and gas companies are hydraulically fracturing with untreated surface water directly into drinking water aquifers in Alberta, and thousands of wells above the Base of Groundwater Protection, where the fresh water is.]
In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton’s town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quietly through a maze of pipes and into the homes of Walkerton, Ont. Unsuspecting residents thirstily drank the polluted water and bathed in their bacteria-ridden tubs. But soon after, they began experiencing common symptoms of infection; bloody diarrhea and throbbing cramps.
Seven people would eventually die and another 1286 would fall ill.
The investigation which followed exposed an alarmingly unstable waterworks system made fragile by government cuts. “This is a very scary time we’re going through right now,” says Chris Trushinski, the owner of Mel’s 49 Diner and Gas Bar in Walkerton, Ont. Trushinski describes an anxious and angry community. Trushinski, for one, is upset with Premier Mike Harris’ budgetary cuts. He believes the reduced Ministry of the Environment has left the water supply vulnerable. Residents are leaving town temporarily and those who stay behind are under extreme duress. Trushinski says that he boils the diner’s water and has sterilized the diner but this has done little entice paying customers. Instead, Mel’s 49 Diner has become a meeting place for people to commiserate. [Emphasis added]
2003 04 03: Walkerton: Criminal charges 4:13 Min. by CBC News
The OPP announce criminal charges against the Koebel brothers but an angry Walkerton citizen expresses outrage that more people, especially government officials, weren’t also charged.