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!
For a rare prairie orchid, science is making climate change local
12.02.2016 | USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station
NASA sees Tropical Cyclone Winston form
12.02.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
12.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
12.02.2016 | Life Sciences
12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering