In a recently study, Rutgers assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Nicole Fahrenfeld discovered that gas and oil spills have caused water microbes in West Virginia to alter. The wastewater releases from plants, including companies fracking for shale gas, changed the microbes by their diversity, numbers, and functions. Variations in the microbes included respiration and nutrient cycling indicating stress. The microbes studied also included changes in their antibiotic resistance. The study findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a technique where the rock is fractured by the pressurized liquid for natural gas, petroleum, and brine flows through the stone. The fluid used in the process is water with sand or other particulars that are suspended by other agents. It is highly controversial in many countries with many opponents arguing that fracking risks ground and surface water with contamination, air, and noise pollutions, triggering earthquakes, and other public health hazards. In the U.S., more and more fracking is happening in states much to people’s displeasure.
The Rutgers University study found that scientists need to research the microbial ecosystems that are impacted by improper treatment of wastewater from fracking and accidental releases. The changes could mean the wastewater could be reused for other purposes. Fahrenfeld, who is the lead author of the study said that the research being done could be used to arrive at hypotheses regarding the impacts of wastewater. She went on to add that she wanted to understand how it could affect the environment.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assisted in the study. Water and sediment samples were collected from Wolf Creek in Monroe County, West Virginia, not far from the Virginia state line. Samples were also collected from an a tributary that was not named, which runs through an injection control facility located underground. The samples were then shipped to Rutgers University and analyzed by the Waksman Genomics Core Facility.
While the West Virginia water microbes altered, they did not show antibiotic resistance. Biocides were used on this particular site, raising concerns about the increase of antimicrobial resistance. Because of the increase in antibiotics, microbes have evolved making the antibiotics resistant to the drugs. Millions of people become infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year with at least 23,000 people dying from their infections. More research must be done to understand the consequences of altered microbes.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency