By Philip A. Janquart, Courthouse News Service
(CN) — Researchers have discovered a never-before-seen genus of bacteria living in sustainable ecosystems in the most unlikely of places — in the depths of shale oil and gas fracking wells.
Hydraulic fracturing — fracking — is the process of using water and chemicals to fracture rock deep beneath the surface to extract resources such as oil and gas. The practice has become a source of controversy among environmentalists and others who say it destroys the environment and poisons humans.
But Ohio State University researchers and their colleagues reported in the Sept. 5 online edition of Nature Microbiology that they have found a new genus of bacteria that can survive fracking’s hostile conditions. Dubbed Candidatus “Frackibacter,” the bacteria was found among 31 other microbes in two fracturing wells drilled in different kinds of shale formations separated by hundreds of miles.
Interestingly, the wells are owned by different energy companies that use different fracturing techniques, according to a report published by Ohio State University’s assistant director of research and innovation communications Pam Frost Gorder.
The microbes, excluding Frackibacter, are thought to have made their way from surface ponds used to fill the wells. Frackibacter was discovered by researchers taking a genomic approach to the study of microorganisms living in shale oil and gas wells.
“We think that the microbes in each well may form a self-sustaining ecosystem where they provide their own food sources,” explained Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology and biophysics at Ohio State. “Drilling the well and pumping in fracturing fluid creates the ecosystem, but the microbes adapt to their new environment in a way to sustain the system over long periods.”
Wrighton says that while most of the microbes found in the wells likely come from the surface …