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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    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Titan supercomputer tells origin story of nanoparticle size distributions with large-scale simulations.

    In a first, researchers identify reddish coloring in an ancient fossil - a 3-million-year-old mouse

    In a first, researchers identify reddish coloring in an ancient fossil - a 3-million-year-old mouse

    Researchers have for the first time detected chemical traces of red pigment in an ancient fossil - an exceptionally well-preserved mouse, not unlike today's field mice, that roamed the fields of what is now the German village of Willershausen around 3 million years ago.

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Release describes application of machine learning form of artificial intelligence to predict the behavior of fusion plasma.

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    A team of researchers has produced a record-shattering underwater sound with an intensity that eclipses that of a rocket launch. The intensity was equivalent to directing the electrical power of an entire city onto a single square meter, resulting in sound pressures above 270 decibels.

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    A Berkeley Lab-led research group is using a deep learning method known as generative adversarial networks to enhance the use of gravitational lensing in the study of dark matter.

    Breakthrough Technique for Studying Gene Expression Takes Root in Plants

    Breakthrough Technique for Studying Gene Expression Takes Root in Plants

    An open-source RNA analysis platform has been successfully used on plant cells for the first time - an advance that could herald a new era of fundamental research and bolster efforts to engineer more efficient food and biofuel crop plants. The technology, called Drop-seq, is a method for measuring the RNA present in individual cells, allowing scientists to see what genes are being expressed and how this relates to the specific functions of different cell types.

    Bio-inspired material targets oceans' uranium stores for sustainable nuclear energy

    Bio-inspired material targets oceans' uranium stores for sustainable nuclear energy

    Scientists have demonstrated a new bio-inspired material for an eco-friendly and cost-effective approach to recovering uranium from seawater. The low-cost polymer adsorbent could help push past bottlenecks in the cost and efficiency of extracting uranium resources from oceans for sustainable energy production.

    Study Concludes Glassy Menagerie of Particles in Beach Sands Near Hiroshima is Fallout Debris from A-Bomb Blast

    Study Concludes Glassy Menagerie of Particles in Beach Sands Near Hiroshima is Fallout Debris from A-Bomb Blast

    A years-long study that involved scientists and experiments at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley concluded that an odd assortment of particles found in beach sands in Japan are most likely fallout debris from the 1945 Hiroshima A-bomb blast.


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    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

    The global science and technology organization Battelle recognized materials scientist Mircea Cotlet of Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials for his research in applying self-assembly methods to control the interfaces between nanomaterials and other light-interacting components.

    Berkeley Lab Project to Pinpoint Methane 'Super Emitters'

    Berkeley Lab Project to Pinpoint Methane 'Super Emitters'

    Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide, is commonly released from rice fields, dairies, landfills, and oil and gas facilities - all of which are plentiful in California. Now Berkeley Lab has been awarded $6 million by the state to find "super emitters" of methane in an effort to quantify and potentially mitigate methane emissions.

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Advanced Research Systems has licensed an ORNL technology designed to automatically refill liquid helium used in laboratory equipment for low-temperature scientific experiments, which will reduce downtime, recover more helium and increase overall efficiency.

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique. The new coating can keep the battery's cathode electrically and ionically conductive and ensures that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    World-class energy leaders will offer their expertise to Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, as part of a new Advisory Council announced today. CRI has named 14 Advisory Council members, including investors, industry experts and business executives, to help guide its growth and strategy.

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    The new agreement builds upon ORNL and Lincoln Electric's previous developments by extending additive technology to new materials, leveraging data analytics and enabling rapid manufacture of metal components in excess of 100 pounds per hour.

    Students from Minnesota and Massachusetts Win DOE's 29th National Science Bowl(r)

    Students from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, won the 2019 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl(r) (NSB) today in Washington, D.C. In the middle school competition, students from Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, took home first place.

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators will be joining Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, as part of the elite program's third cohort. Announced on Monday, April 22, these innovators were selected following an extensive national solicitation process and two-part pitch competition, with reviews from industry experts, investors, scientists and engineers.

    Department of Energy Announces $20 Million for Artificial Intelligence Research

    Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a total of $20 million in funding for innovative research and development in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning.

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has named Tim Knewitz at its Chief Financial Officer.


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    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Titan supercomputer tells origin story of nanoparticle size distributions with large-scale simulations.

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Insight about energy flow in copper-based material could aid in creating efficient molecular electronics.

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    First measurements of heat flux in plasmas experientially sheds light on models relying on classical thermal transport.

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    The Fusion Recurrent Neural Network reliably forecasts disruptive and destructive events in tokamaks.

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons that affect medical imaging and more.

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Antiquark spin contribution to proton spin depends on flavor, which could help unlock secrets about the nuclear structure of atoms that make up nearly all visible matter in our universe.

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    A precision measurement of the proton's weak charge narrows the search for new physics.


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