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!
Field widens for environments, microbes that produce toxic form of mercury
12.10.2015 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Unexpected information about Earth's climate history from Yellow River sediment
09.10.2015 | Uppsala University
Physicists of TU Berlin and mathematicians of MATHEON are so successful that even the prestigious journal “Nature Communications” reported on their project.
Security in data transfer is an important issue, and not only since the NSA scandal. Sometimes, however, the need for speed conflicts to a certain degree with...
Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.
Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...
Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.
To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...
The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.
As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...
Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.
Inspired by insects
01.10.2015 | Event News
30.09.2015 | Event News
17.09.2015 | Event News
13.10.2015 | Life Sciences
13.10.2015 | Life Sciences
13.10.2015 | Health and Medicine