DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2014-08-04 10:00:00
    • Article ID: 621517

    Drilling in the Dark: Biological Impacts of Fracking Still Largely Unknown

    As production of shale gas soars, the industry's effects on nature and wildlife remain largely unexplored, according to a study by a group of conservation biologists published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on Aug. 1.

    The report emphasizes the need to determine the environmental impact of chemical contamination from spills, well-casing failure, and other accidents.

    "We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife," says author Sara Souther, a conservation fellow in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And in particular, there is a lack of accessible and reliable information on spills, wastewater disposal and the chemistry of fracturing fluids. Of the 24 U.S. states with active shale gas reservoirs, only five maintain public records of spills and accidents."

    The 800 percent increase in U.S. shale gas production between 2007 and 2012 is largely due to the use of hydraulic fracturing. Also called fracking, the process uses high-pressure injection of water, laden with sand and a variety of chemicals, to open cracks in the gas reservoir so natural gas can flow to the well. A similar technique is used for extracting oil from "tight" geologic formations.

    The chemical makeup of fracturing fluid and wastewater, which can include carcinogens and radioactive substances, is often unknown. The authors reviewed chemical disclosure statements for 150 wells in three top gas-producing states and found that, on average, two out of three wells were fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical.

    Pressured by growing concern about pollution to groundwater and surface water, government and the industry have made some steps toward openness, Souther acknowledges, but she says more progress is needed.

    “The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website is one of the nation's best sources of publicly available information on spills of fracking fluid, wastewater, and other contaminants. Even so, gas companies failed to report over one third of spills in the last year,” she says. “How many more unreported spills occurred, but were not detected during well inspections? We need accurate data on the release of fracturing chemicals into the environment before we can understand impacts to plants and animals.”

    One of the greatest threats to animal and plant life identified in the study is the cumulative impact of rapid, widespread shale development, with each individual well contributing collectively to air, water, noise and light pollution.

    “The past has taught us that environmental impacts of large-scale development and resource extraction, whether coal plants, large dams or biofuel monocultures, are more than the sum of their parts,” notes Morgan Tingley, a researcher from University of Connecticut. “We can’t let shale development outpace our understanding of its environmental impacts.”

    “If you look down on a heavily fracked landscape," Souther says, "you see a web of well pads, access roads, and pipelines creating islands out of what was, in some cases, continuous habitat. What are the combined effects of numerous wells and their supporting infrastructure on wide-ranging or sensitive species, like the pronghorn antelope or the hellbender salamander?

    “I am from West Virginia, which is underlain by one of the largest shale gas reservoirs in the U.S. However, this industry doesn’t just impact gas-producing states. Here in Wisconsin, shale development is affecting areas that supply sand for use in hydraulic fracturing."

    The study looked broadly at what is known — and what is not — about the conservation impacts of fracking. “Some of the wells in the chemical disclosure registry were fractured with fluid containing 20 or more undisclosed chemicals,” says co-author Kimberly Terrell, a researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “This is an arbitrary and inconsistent standard of chemical disclosure.”

    With shale gas production projected to increase exponentially over the next 30 years, the authors hope the study will guide the application of limited scientific resources to the most important questions, and enhance cooperation among scientists, industry and policymakers to minimize damage to the natural world.

    The authors are all David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellows, a project established by the Cedar Tree Foundation and the Society for Conservation Biology. Souther has been a research fellow at UW-Madison for three years. In September, she will begin a professorship at West Virginia Wesleyan College in West Virginia.

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    New Molecular Blueprint Advances Our Understanding of Photosynthesis

    New Molecular Blueprint Advances Our Understanding of Photosynthesis

    Researchers at Berkeley Lab have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy. The finding will allow scientists to explore for the first time how the complex functions and could have implications for the production of a variety of bioproducts, including plastic alternatives and biofuels.

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Optimized oxides made from common metals use less energy and show the potential of new design approach.

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Particle crowding interferes with moving energy efficiently along promising molecular chains.

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Scientists catch details with atomic resolution, potentially helping design systems to use sunlight and water to produce fuels.

    Newly isolated human gut bacterium reveals possible connection to depression

    Newly isolated human gut bacterium reveals possible connection to depression

    Researchers have established a correlation between depression and a group of neurotransmitter-producing bacteria found in the human gut.

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Far from being a mere spectator, solvents can play a larger role in chemical reactions, likely including those used in energy storage and biology.

    ORNL Teams with Los Alamos, EPB to Demonstrate Next-Generation Grid Security Tech

    ORNL Teams with Los Alamos, EPB to Demonstrate Next-Generation Grid Security Tech

    A team of researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories has partnered with EPB, a Chattanooga utility and telecommunications company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of metro-scale quantum key distribution (QKD) as a means of secure communication for the nation's electricity suppliers. This initial milestone is part of the team's three-year project focused on next-generation grid security.

    Sophisticated Blood Analysis Provides New Clues About Ebola, Treatment Avenues

    Sophisticated Blood Analysis Provides New Clues About Ebola, Treatment Avenues

    A detailed analysis of blood samples from Ebola patients is providing clues about the progression of the effects of the virus in patients and potential treatment pathways. The findings point to a critical role for a molecular pathway that relies on the common nutrient choline, as well as the importance of cellular bodies known as microvesicles.

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Researchers watch and measure in real time charge dynamics between layers of oxide materials, offering insights into solar cells.

    Researchers use X-rays to understand the flaws of battery fast charging

    Researchers use X-rays to understand the flaws of battery fast charging

    Argonne researchers used the laboratory's Advanced Photon Source to image a battery as it was quickly charged and discharged, allowing for the observation of lithium plating behavior that can inhibit the battery's long-term function.


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    DOE launches its first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center: ReCell

    DOE launches its first lithium-ion battery recycling R&D center: ReCell

    The launch of the Energy Department's first lithium-ion battery recycling center, called the ReCell Center, will help the United States grow a globally competitive recycling industry and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of battery materials.

    James Wishart Awarded Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal

    James Wishart Awarded Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal

    James Wishart, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been awarded the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medal by the Polish Radiation Research Society (PRRS). The award recognizes his distinguished achievements in the field of radiation chemistry and his long-lasting and productive interactions with Polish scientists.

    Lynbrook High wins 2019 SLAC Regional Science Bowl competition

    Lynbrook High wins 2019 SLAC Regional Science Bowl competition

    Twenty-eight teams from 17 Bay Area high schools faced off Feb. 9 in the SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl, a series of fast-paced question-and-answer matches that test knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, energy and math. The competition is hosted annually by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    UNLV Among 11 Teams Worldwide To Compete in 2020 Solar Decathlon

    UNLV Among 11 Teams Worldwide To Compete in 2020 Solar Decathlon

    Students to build sustainable home of healing for military veterans for U.S. Department of Energy contest; UNLV competed in 2013 and 2017.

    Three Brookhaven Scientists Named Highly Cited Researchers

    Three Brookhaven Scientists Named Highly Cited Researchers

    Three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have been named to the 2018 Highly Cited Researchers List, which recognizes influential researchers whose work ranks in the top one percent of the world's most-cited scientific papers. Brookhaven's Radoslav Adzic, Mark Hybertsen, and Xiao-Qing Yang are among only 4,000 researchers from around the world whom achieved the distinction in 2018.

    New tools in transportation

    New tools in transportation

    A new version of the AFLEET Tool from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory calculates and compares the costs and environmental benefits of a broad range of alternative fuel technologies. Covering 18 fuel/vehicle technologies, AFLEET Online offers an easy-to-use web-based platform.

    Remote-Control Plasma Physics Experiment is Named One of Top Webcams of 2018

    Remote-Control Plasma Physics Experiment is Named One of Top Webcams of 2018

    EarthCam names remote-control experiment at PPPL one of 25 most interesting Webcams of 2018.

    Jefferson Lab Scientist Awarded Distinguished Lectureship

    Jefferson Lab Scientist Awarded Distinguished Lectureship

    Cynthia Keppel, leader of Jefferson Lab's Halls A&C, has been honored with the APS 2019 Distinguished Lectureship Award on the Applications of Physics.

    Journal Special Issues Honor Chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek

    Journal Special Issues Honor Chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek

    The Journal of the Electrochemical Society and Surface Science recognized the contributions of Brookhaven Lab chemists Radoslav Adzic and Jan Hrbek to electrocatalysis and catalysis.

    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Scientist Michael Wang from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently inducted as a Fellow of the professional engineering organization SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The organization reserves this prestigious grade of membership for thosewho have made significant contributions to mobility technology and have demonstrated leadership in their field.


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    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Newly Discovered Design Rules Lead to Better Fuel Cell Catalyst

    Optimized oxides made from common metals use less energy and show the potential of new design approach.

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Too Close for Comfort: Nanoparticles Need Some Space to Transfer Energy

    Particle crowding interferes with moving energy efficiently along promising molecular chains.

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Atomic Snapshots of Photosynthesis

    Scientists catch details with atomic resolution, potentially helping design systems to use sunlight and water to produce fuels.

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Chemicals Can Change Their Identity, Thanks to the Liquids Where They Reside

    Far from being a mere spectator, solvents can play a larger role in chemical reactions, likely including those used in energy storage and biology.

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Controlling Charge Flow by Managing Electron Holes

    Researchers watch and measure in real time charge dynamics between layers of oxide materials, offering insights into solar cells.

    Controls on Nitrogen Nutrient Availability in the Arctic Tundra

    Controls on Nitrogen Nutrient Availability in the Arctic Tundra

    Soil moisture is key to determining plant growth and nutrient cycling in complex tundra landscapes.

    Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics

    Hydrogels Change Water and Solute Dynamics

    Hydrogel pores can modify the molecular-level motion of water and dissolved ions.

    Coupling Computer Models Shows Interactions among River Water, Groundwater, and Land Surfaces

    Coupling Computer Models Shows Interactions among River Water, Groundwater, and Land Surfaces

    Computer model offers detailed view of water cycling and complex Earth system dynamics.

    Viruses Must Overcome Challenges to Infect Bacteria in Nature

    Viruses Must Overcome Challenges to Infect Bacteria in Nature

    Molecular studies show phage-host interactions are more complicated than most laboratory studies suggest.

    The Subtle, but Significant, Role of Surfaces in Ion Stickiness

    The Subtle, but Significant, Role of Surfaces in Ion Stickiness

    Direct interactions dominate ion adsorption to aqueous graphene, a process central to vital processes in energy technology.


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