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Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Jun 3;48(11):6508-17. doi: 10.1021/es501173p. Epub 2014 May 20.

Temporal changes in microbial ecology and geochemistry in produced water from hydraulically fractured Marcellus shale gas wells.

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Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, Ohio State University , Columbus, Ohio 43210, United States.


Microorganisms play several important roles in unconventional gas recovery, from biodegradation of hydrocarbons to souring of wells and corrosion of equipment. During and after the hydraulic fracturing process, microorganisms are subjected to harsh physicochemical conditions within the kilometer-deep hydrocarbon-bearing shale, including high pressures, elevated temperatures, exposure to chemical additives and biocides, and brine-level salinities. A portion of the injected fluid returns to the surface and may be reused in other fracturing operations, a process that can enrich for certain taxa. This study tracked microbial community dynamics using pyrotag sequencing of 16S rRNA genes in water samples from three hydraulically fractured Marcellus shale wells in Pennsylvania, USA over a 328-day period. There was a reduction in microbial richness and diversity after fracturing, with the lowest diversity at 49 days. Thirty-one taxa dominated injected, flowback, and produced water communities, which took on distinct signatures as injected carbon and electron acceptors were attenuated within the shale. The majority (>90%) of the community in flowback and produced fluids was related to halotolerant bacteria associated with fermentation, hydrocarbon oxidation, and sulfur-cycling metabolisms, including heterotrophic genera Halolactibacillus, Vibrio, Marinobacter, Halanaerobium, and Halomonas, and autotrophs belonging to Arcobacter. Sequences related to halotolerant methanogenic genera Methanohalophilus and Methanolobus were detected at low abundance (<2%) in produced waters several months after hydraulic fracturing. Five taxa were strong indicators of later produced fluids. These results provide insight into the temporal trajectory of subsurface microbial communities after "fracking" and have important implications for the enrichment of microbes potentially detrimental to well infrastructure and natural gas fouling during this process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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