New Genus Of Bacteria Found In Fracking Wells

Deep underground in America's shale formations, researchers at the Ohio State University have just discovered a new genus of bacteria.

The team recently published a study in "Nature Microbiology" that describes a new genus of bacteria discovered at two separate fracking wells drilled hundreds of miles apart from each other.

The team dubbed the new bacteria Candidatus Frackibacter as a play on the word "fracking".

The researchers took fluid samples from the two wells over 328 days and reconstructed the genomes of the bacteria and archaea living in the two shales - and they found that the two wells developed nearly identical communities of microbes.

The startling part of this study is that the two wells are located in two different shales - one in the Utica shale and one in the Marcellus shale - and the wells are also owned by two different companies which used two different fracking techniques.

The researchers identified 31 different microbes in the wells, some of which probably came from the surface ponds that companies exploit to pump into the wells - but many of the bacteria may have come from the shale - such as Candidatus Frackibacter.

While companies use different proprietary mixtures of toxic fracking cocktails to break up the shale - lead author Rebecca Daley points out that they all start with water and add other chemicals.

Once the toxic fluid is in the well - salt within the shale leaches into it making it briny, which researchers suggest may be the biggest factor in creating these self-sustaining communities of microbes.

The researchers suggest that the saltiness of the well water forces microbes to develop organic compounds called "osmoprotectants" to keep the microbes' cells from exploding in the briny mixture.

Then, when the microbes die, they release their osmoprotectants into the environment for other microbes to either consume for energy or to use for protection.

This research opens up a whole world of questions about where Candidatus Frackibacter comes from and what its role in the environment is - and this is also an amazing reminder that we still don't really understand the world around us and the environment below the surface of the Earth, let alone how we're changing it with dangerous and poorly studied industrial processes like fracking.

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