Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

'Fracking' Mobilizes Uranium in Marcellus Shale

26.10.2010
Findings raise new concern: could uranium show up in groundwater?

Scientific and political disputes over drilling Marcellus shale for natural gas have focused primarily on the environmental effects of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to blast through rocks to release the natural gas.

But University at Buffalo researchers have now found that that process -- called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking"-- also causes uranium that is naturally trapped inside Marcellus shale to be released, raising additional environmental concerns.

The research will be presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver on Nov. 2.

Marcellus shale is a massive rock formation that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and which is often described as the nation's largest source of natural gas.

"Marcellus shale naturally traps metals such as uranium and at levels higher than usually found naturally, but lower than manmade contamination levels," says Tracy Bank, PhD, assistant professor of geology in UB's College of Arts and Sciences and lead researcher. "My question was, if they start drilling and pumping millions of gallons of water into these underground rocks, will that force the uranium into the soluble phase and mobilize it? Will uranium then show up in groundwater?"

To find out, Bank and her colleagues at UB scanned the surfaces of Marcellus shale samples from Western New York and Pennsylvania. Using sensitive chemical instruments, they created a chemical map of the surfaces to determine the precise location in the shale of the hydrocarbons, the organic compounds containing natural gas.

"We found that the uranium and the hydrocarbons are in the same physical space," says Bank. "We found that they are not just physically -- but also chemically -- bound.

"That led me to believe that uranium in solution could be more of an issue because the process of drilling to extract the hydrocarbons could start mobilizing the metals as well, forcing them into the soluble phase and causing them to move around."

When Bank and her colleagues reacted samples in the lab with surrogate drilling fluids, they found that the uranium was indeed, being solubilized.

In addition, she says, when the millions of gallons of water used in hydraulic fracturing come back to the surface, it could contain uranium contaminants, potentially polluting streams and other ecosystems and generating hazardous waste.

The research required the use of very sophisticated methods of analysis, including one called Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry, or ToF-SIMS, in the laboratory of Joseph A. Gardella Jr., Larkin Professor of Chemistry at UB.

The UB research is the first to map samples using this technique, which identified the precise location of the uranium.

"Even though at these levels, uranium is not a radioactive risk, it is still a toxic, deadly metal," Bank concludes. "We need a fundamental understanding of how uranium exists in shale. The more we understand about how it exists, the more we can better predict how it will react to 'fracking.'"

Bank conducted the experiments with UB Department of Geology graduate students Thomas Malizia and Lauren Fortson, and Lisa Andresky, an undergraduate student from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Andresky worked in Bank's lab during the summer while on a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates in UB's Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) program.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Ellen Goldbaum | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.buffalo.edu/news/11885

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Oceans may be large, overlooked source of hydrogen gas
21.07.2016 | Duke University

nachricht Groundwater discharge to upper Colorado River Basin varies in response to drought
21.07.2016 | US Geological Survey

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mapping electromagnetic waveforms

Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.

Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...

Im Focus: Continental tug-of-war - until the rope snaps

Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases

Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...

Im Focus: A Peek into the “Birthing Room” of Ribosomes

Scaffolding and specialised workers help with the delivery – Heidelberg biochemists gain new insights into biogenesis

A type of scaffolding on which specialised workers ply their trade helps in the manufacturing process of the two subunits from which the ribosome – the protein...

Im Focus: New protocol enables analysis of metabolic products from fixed tissues

Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have developed a new mass spectrometry imaging method which, for the first time, makes it possible to analyze hundreds of metabolites in fixed tissue samples. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Protocols, explain the new access to metabolic information, which will offer previously unexploited potential for tissue-based research and molecular diagnostics.

In biomedical research, working with tissue samples is indispensable because it permits insights into the biological reality of patients, for example, in...

Im Focus: Computer Simulation Renders Transient Chemical Structures Visible

Chemists at the University of Basel have succeeded in using computer simulations to elucidate transient structures in proteins. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers set out how computer simulations of details at the atomic level can be used to understand proteins’ modes of action.

Using computational chemistry, it is possible to characterize the motion of individual atoms of a molecule. Today, the latest simulation techniques allow...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

GROWING IN CITIES - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Gardening

15.07.2016 | Event News

SIGGRAPH2016 Computer Graphics Interactive Techniques, 24-28 July, Anaheim, California

15.07.2016 | Event News

Partner countries of FAIR accelerator meet in Darmstadt and approve developments

11.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Hey robot, shimmy like a centipede

22.07.2016 | Information Technology

New record in materials research: 1 terapascals in a laboratory

22.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

University of Graz researchers challenge 140-year-old paradigm of lichen symbiosis

22.07.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>