#AGU15 Likely to be the new irrational fear from fracking: "frackteria"

From the Ohio State University and the department of “Frankenbugs that scare the greenies” comes this interesting study on how to increase output from fracked wells with the help of bacteria, or as the researchers named the press release file: “frackteria”, a name sure to strike fear into the minds of the hopelessly irrational uninformed.

A hydraulic fracturing drill rig near Tunkhannock, Pa Source: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Some gas produced by hydraulic fracturing comes from surprise source

Microbes make methane that adds to wells’ output, study finds

San Francisco—Some of the natural gas harvested by hydraulic fracturing operations may be of biological origin—made by microorganisms inadvertently injected into shale by oil and gas companies during the hydraulic fracturing process, a new study has found.

The study suggests that microorganisms including bacteria and archaea might one day be used to enhance methane production—perhaps by sustaining the energy a site can produce after fracturing ends.

The discovery is a result of the first detailed genomic analysis of bacteria and archaea living in deep fractured shales, and was made possible through a collaboration among universities and industry. The project is also yielding new techniques for tracing the movement of bacteria and methane within wells.

Researchers described the project’s early results on Monday, Dec. 14, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“A lot is happening underground during the hydraulic fracturing process that we’re just beginning to learn about,” said principal investigator Paula Mouser, assistant professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering at The Ohio State University.

“The interactions of microorganisms and chemicals introduced into the wells create a fascinating new ecosystem. Some of what we learn could make the wells more productive.”

Oil and gas companies inject fluid—mostly water drawn from surface reservoirs— underground to break up shale and release the oil and gas—mostly methane—that is trapped inside. Though they’ve long known about the microbes living inside fracturing wells—and even inject biocides to keep them from clogging the equipment—nobody has known for sure where the bacteria came from until now.

“Our results indicate that most of the organisms are coming from the input fluid,” said Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology and biophysics at Ohio State. “So this means that we’re creating a whole new ecosystem a mile below the surface. Not only are we fracturing the rock, we’re giving these organisms a new place to live and food to eat. And in fact, the biocides that we add to inhibit their growth may actually be fueling the production of methane.”

That is, the biocides kill some types of bacteria, thus enabling other bacteria and archaea to prosper—species that somehow >ind a way to survive in water that is typically four times saltier than the ocean, and under pressures that are typically hundreds of times higher than on the surface of the earth. Deprived of light for photosynthesis, these hardy microorganisms adapt in part by eating chemicals found in the fracturing fluid and producing methane.

Next, the researchers want to pinpoint exactly how the bacteria enter the fracturing fluid. It’s likely that they normally live in the surface water that makes up the bulk of the >luid. But there’s at least one other possibility, Wrighton explained.

Oil and gas companies start the fracturing process by putting fresh water into giant blenders, where chemicals are added. The blenders are routinely swapped between sites, and sometimes companies re-­‐use some of the well’s production fluid. So it’s possible that the bacteria live inside the equipment and propagate from well to well. In the next phase of the study, the team will sample site equipment to >ind out.

The clues emerged when the researchers began using genomic tools to construct a kind of metabolic blueprint for life living inside wells, Wrighton explained.

“We look at the fluid that comes out of the well,” she said. “We take all the genes and enzymes in that fluid and create a picture of what the whole microbial community is doing. We can see whether they survive, what they eat and how they interact with each other.”

The Ohio State researchers are working with partners at West Virginia University to test the >luids taken from a well operated by Northeast Natural Energy in West Virginia. For more than a year, they’ve regularly measured the genes, enzymes and chemical isotopes in used fracturing >luid drawn from the well.

Within around 80 days after injection, the researchers found, the organisms inside the well settle into a kind of food chain that Wrighton described this way: Some bacteria eat the fracturing >luid and produce new chemicals, which other bacteria eat. Those bacteria then produce other chemicals, and so on. The last metabolic step ends with certain species of archaea producing methane.

Tests also showed that initially small bacterial populations sometimes bloom into prominence underground. In one case, a particular species that made up only 4 percent of the microbial life going into the well emerged in the used fracturing >luid at levels of 60 percent.

“In terms of the resilience of life, it’s new insight for me into the capabilities of microorganisms.”

The researchers are working to describe the nature of pathways along which >luids migrate in shale, develop tracers to track >luid migration and biological processes, and identify habitable zones where life might thrive in the deep, hot terrestrial subsurface.

For example, Michael Wilkins, assistant professor of earth sciences and microbiology at Ohio State, leads a part of the project that grows bacteria under high pressure and high temperature conditions.

“Our aim is to understand how the microorganisms operate under such conditions, given that it’s likely they’ve been injected from surface sources, and are accustomed to living at much lower temperatures and normal atmospheric pressure. We’re also hoping to see how geochemical signatures of microbial activity, such as methane isotopes, change in these environments,” Wilkins said.

Other aspects of the project involve studying how liquid, gas and rock interact underground. In Ohio State’s Subsurface Materials Characterization and Analysis Laboratory, Director David Cole models the geochemical reactions taking place inside shale wells. The professor of earth sciences and Ohio Research Scholar is uncovering reaction rates for the migration of chemicals inside shale.

Using tools such as advanced electron microscopy, micro-­‐X-­‐ray computed tomography and neutron scattering, Cole’s group studies the pores that form inside shale. The pores range in size from the diameter of a human hair to many times smaller, and early results suggest that connections between these pores may enable microorganisms to access food and room to grow.

Yet another part of the project involves developing new ways to track the methane produced by the bacteria, as well as the methane released from shale fracturing.

Thomas Darrah, assistant professor of earth sciences, is developing computer models that trace the pathways >luids follow within the shale and within fracturing equipment.

Though oil and gas companies may not be able to take full advantage of this newly discovered methane source for some time, Wrighton pointed out that there are already examples of bio-­‐assisted methane production in industry, particularly in coal bed methane operations.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a young industry,” she said. “It may take decades, but it’s possible that biogenesis will play a role in its future.”

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December 16, 2015 9:06 am

Since they started all this increased fracking, I’ve been going bald , and I don’t even live anywhere near where they are fracking !! Scary stuff ! sarc…

Reply to  Marcus
December 16, 2015 12:22 pm

Marcus High Fat Diet your hair will return.

December 16, 2015 9:11 am

“may be”- binned.

December 16, 2015 9:15 am

sample site equipment to >ind out.
species that somehow >ind a way to survive
Something wrong with the ” F ” key ??

Reply to  Marcus
December 16, 2015 9:29 am

Those four letter “F” words were auto-corrected. 🙂

Reply to  Eric Sincere
December 16, 2015 10:21 am


Reply to  Eric Sincere
December 16, 2015 10:28 am

@Marcus –
I think you mean ‘WT>’.

Reply to  Eric Sincere
December 16, 2015 10:37 am

Good one Lee !

Reply to  Marcus
December 16, 2015 10:03 am

Probably OCR tripping up on ligands of “fl” and “fi” or conversion from some too-smart word processor. Long live ASCII-68. 🙂

Reply to  Ric Werme
December 16, 2015 10:18 am


Reply to  Marcus
December 16, 2015 10:24 am

there are several instances of “>luid” as well.

Reply to  MarkW
December 16, 2015 11:32 am

Don’t you see? A >oreign substance has been introduced into our precious bodily >luids! It’s those damn Commies!

December 16, 2015 9:25 am

Biological regeneration of exhausted wells? Once a decade, thousands of wells could be tapped for additional output. Curious.

David M
December 16, 2015 9:34 am

“Some bacteria eat the fracturing >luid and produce new chemicals, which other bacteria eat. Those bacteria then produce other chemicals, and so on. ”
Sounds to me like they might be making underground beer.

Reply to  David M
December 16, 2015 12:16 pm

Or underground Kombucha. Greenies love the stuff. (I do, too, but I’m not a greenie.)

Richard G
Reply to  David M
December 17, 2015 1:09 am

So these bacteria go underground, then eat, drink, procreate and fart.

December 16, 2015 9:41 am

Sounds like more evidence for the hypothesis so biological production of petroleum. It would be interesting to start sequencing some deep well bacterial ecosystems. Earth’s gut microbiome as it were.

December 16, 2015 9:57 am

OMG look at that photo. Fracking setting the horizon ablaze!

Reply to  Bernie
December 16, 2015 10:04 am

It needs a wind turbine for size comparison.

Reply to  Ric Werme
December 16, 2015 10:20 am

Don’t forget some chopped up endangered birds !!!

Reply to  Bernie
December 16, 2015 10:48 am

Settle down Bernie. It is just the atomic radiation glow from the nuclear power plant just behind that low hill.

December 16, 2015 10:06 am

Looking at the picture, does anyone else think the drilling rig base supports look like skeletal V2 rocket fins?

Reply to  Bill Sticker
December 16, 2015 11:35 am

I so want to launch that in KSP ^¿^

December 16, 2015 10:07 am

So, if these wells are producing recently created methane, that would mean that it’s no longer fossil fuel, but biogas! Being an underground source, perhaps we should call it dark green energy.

Reply to  Ric Werme
December 16, 2015 8:50 pm

Whatever you wanna call it Ric, just use the force (it creates).

December 16, 2015 10:15 am

One of the long standing complaints against well drillers in general is that they sometimes introduce sulphate reducing bacteria into peoples well water sources which results in a very unpleasant rotten egg smell in the water. I seem to recall that the standard response from the exploration industry to this accusation was to deny and ridicule. Does this study support the possible link between drilling and aquifer water quality degradation?

Reply to  BCBill
December 16, 2015 10:27 am

Probably not, especially since fracking occurs thousands of feet below where ground water collects.

Reply to  MarkW
December 16, 2015 11:28 am

They drill through aquifers before they get to the formations where fracking occurs. I guess the likelihood of contaminating an aquifer as it is drilled through depends on how clean the bits, drilling mud and casings are. I suspect they aren’t clean at all, but somebody out there would know.

Reply to  MarkW
December 16, 2015 12:38 pm

You might get a little mud , with or without bacteria !!

Reply to  BCBill
December 16, 2015 5:59 pm

Wells are “lined” with casing, which is cemented in. They don’t mess with the ground water. All the action occurs thousands of feet below the aquifers.

Michael 2
Reply to  BCBill
December 17, 2015 7:58 am

“I seem to recall that the standard response from the exploration industry”
is preceded by Standard Accusations ™.

Alan Robertson
December 16, 2015 10:20 am

“Some of the natural gas harvested by hydraulic fracturing operations may be of biological origin”
“Some of the natural gas harvested by hydraulic fracturing operations may be of recent biological origin”


Reply to  Alan Robertson
December 16, 2015 6:00 pm

Depends if there is CO2 present. If there is a lot of CO2, then it is biological in origin. Have to spend the entropy somewhere.

December 16, 2015 10:25 am

Oh no, it’s the bacteria that are causing all the earthquakes.
It’s worserer than we thought.

Reply to  MarkW
December 16, 2015 10:41 am

Haven’t you ever seen the movie “Dune ” ? Those weren’t giant worms , they were giant bacteria that pigged out on fossil fuels !!!

Reply to  Marcus
December 17, 2015 8:37 am

Did you mean “Tremors”?

December 16, 2015 10:36 am

And not one word about global warming or climate change in the entire article. Someone is asleep at the switch.

Alberta Oil Guy
December 16, 2015 10:58 am

Fraccing has been around for 60+ years. Only in the uninformed minds of environmental alarmists is it a “young” industry. Numerous shallow gas fields were recognized as being actively biogenic many decades ago. For example, the Medicine Hat Gas field in south east Alberta has been producing since the early 1900’s and the biogenic nature of the gas was first postulated in the 1960’s or thereabouts.
Maybe it’s all news to these guys, but geologists have known about it for years.

Reply to  Alberta Oil Guy
December 16, 2015 1:27 pm

As I recall,the Nazis were fracking during the second world war.This is old technology.

Reply to  clive
December 16, 2015 2:11 pm


As I recall,the Nazis were fracking during the second world war.This is old technology.

No, they were building and using as many coal-to-gasoline plants as they could – and perhaps that is what you were thinking of – but the technology of “fracking” as it is used now (horizontal drilling into deep rock layers, then hydraulically fracturing the rock by immense liquid solutions underground inside the oil-bearing strata is not a German development. The German and Japanese war machines always had to conquer their oil producing regions from other nations already producing oil from “regular” underground deposits. Malaysia, Indonesia, Romania, Crimea (and ultimately Iran and Iraq, the reason for their south Russia attacks towards Stalingrad, etc.)

Reply to  clive
December 16, 2015 6:01 pm

Fracking came in the late 40s. Before that they used dynamite down hole.

Joseph Borsa
December 16, 2015 11:11 am

Fascinating stuff. This is somewhat reminiscent of the writings of Thomas Gold (The Deep Hot Biosphere). In his synthesis the microbes reside down there and are ubiquitous in locations around the globe. The perturbations introduced by fracking might be allowing “population explosions” of the endogenous organisms.

Pat Frank
December 16, 2015 12:13 pm

Bacterial production of methane (methanogenesis) uses CO2 as the terminal electron acceptor.
Aerobic bacteria (and we humans) use oxygen as the terminal electron acceptor to power our metabolisms; exhaling CO2. Many anaerobes use sulfate [SO4(2-)] as their terminal electron acceptor, and produce H2S.
So here we have fracking that includes removing CO2. The total cycle is borehole CO2 –> CH4 (methane) –> up to the surface –> CO2 (in a fossil fuel power plant), i.e., a recursive cycle.
It’s the worst green nightmare of all — fracking: efficient carbon-neutral fossil fuel energy production.

December 16, 2015 12:41 pm

Send in the Yoko Ono science team. They will find bacteria everywhere.

Gunga din
December 16, 2015 1:20 pm

Didn’t they deal with what Dr. Frankenstein had produced buy burning it? 😎

Richard G
Reply to  Gunga din
December 17, 2015 1:30 am

We could call those bugs “Little Frackensteins”.

December 16, 2015 1:52 pm

“Hydraulic fracturing is a young industry,” she said.
Yeah, we’ve only been doing it for 68 years. Before that we fracked, but used explosives.

December 16, 2015 2:25 pm

NY will ban it out of the abundance of caution.

December 16, 2015 4:58 pm

So what will follow frackteria when this scare dies out? Fracknado, perhaps?

December 16, 2015 6:03 pm

After 80 days, there better not be any fracking fluid left. That comes out at flow back. It must mean that the bacteria start living in the produced water, which is usually very salty.

Richard of NZ
Reply to  JamesD
December 17, 2015 12:23 pm

Many bacteria live very well in high salinity conditions. Staphylococcus sp. will grow in concentrations of 240 gm/l NaCl. Before the advent of antibiotic culture media high concentration NaCl media were used to isolate various gram positive bacteria from mixed fauna (usually Enterobacteriaceae or gut bacteria containing) samples.

December 16, 2015 7:32 pm

There have been two posts referring to using explosives to frac wells prior to using hydraulic fracturing methods. In all my work as a production engineer in the early ’70s in one of the largest oil fields in N. America (which incidentally would not produce economically without fracking) I have encountered only one process for explosively creating fractures.
You may be confusing casing perforating technology with well stimulating technology. Well perforating applies focused explosive charges to create holes in the well casing and cement sheath, enabling production.
The explosive technology I referred to was experimental and was known as a Tally-Frac. Explosive liquid was circulated to depth and squeezed through the perforations into the surrounding formation. When the fluid warmed past it’s detonation temperature, it would “explode” and shatter the formation. In the field trial report from the field where i worked, the fluid detonated prior to complete displacement into the reservoir and shattered not only the formation, but the well casing and other down-hole equipment. This process was extremely dangerous and was not acceptable to the industry.

Ed Zuiderwijk
December 16, 2015 8:43 pm

Help! The Earth is being eaten by monsterbugs! Go tell the King!

December 16, 2015 9:07 pm

Brianjohn; Well before your time but well documented – powder and nitroglycein –

December 16, 2015 9:15 pm

With regard to underground life, it seems life is everywhere – well at least a few thousand metres underground in bacterial form and perhaps 1500 metres or more in multi-cellular form. One of many articles:
(Warning: Be careful what you read or listen to at the referenced site as it could damage your perspective.)

December 17, 2015 4:32 am

Experience the horror. Experience the thrills.
“Fracketeria the Movie” coming soon to theater near you starring Leonardo DeApricot.

December 17, 2015 6:51 am

Just a few comments, since I do this for a living.
1)Hydraulic Fracturing has been used for over 60 years, so the knowledge of these glue heads that have gone organic is immediately suspect.
2) One of the hazahdous chemicals in the frac fluid that causes hysteria with the greens is a biocide to keep bateria from forming, basically clorox.
3) Nitroglycerin was once commnonly used used to stimulate wells during the old cable tool days. I have actually used it to stimulate in water sensitive formations.
4) I refuse to use the term”frack”. The term was invented by greens because it starts with F and ends with a K and implys negative connotation. The term normally used before was “fraccing” or hydraulic fracturing.

Steve Lohr
December 17, 2015 8:19 am

Huh? Must I now conclude that oil wells are a renewable energy source?

December 17, 2015 10:12 am

Wayne Delbeke – I stand corrected.

Jerry Howard
December 18, 2015 7:01 am

Like an earlier poster, thought hit me instantly when reading this article. Thomas Gold was an astrophysicist who thought “outside the box,” but his theory that perhaps not all oil is dinosaur juice was ridiculed.
Maybe Gold is the Immanuel Velikovsky of the petroleum industry.
One thing is clear – just as the global warmists can’t explain how CO2 drives temperature when it’s change reversed 800 years earlier, the dinosaur jockeys can’t explain how oil gets thousands of feet below a sea bed that was built by the upwelling magma driving plate tectonics.
On a lighter note, the title word, “frackteria,” reminds me of the polyestermite scare a few years ago we had a hoax that “experimental oil eating microbes” were created in the lab and have escaped into the oceans and mutated into polyestermites which are destroying boat hulls made of petroleum based fiberglass!” If the hoax occurred today the “mutant polyestermite bloom” would be caused by man made global warming of the seas:-)

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