Searching for Microbes in Shale Rock

Searching for Microbes in Shale Rock


Paula Mouser, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA, is studying microbial life in pristine shale, and shale that has been altered by energy extraction to understanding microbial community dynamics in response to shale energy extraction methods. Little is known about life at these extreme depths. If found, it will offer the potential to help improve recovery methodes of unconventional gas production.

So far, samples containing bacteria have been obtained from oil and gas drilling wells after the fracking already happened. The organisms found have similarities to those in the deep ocean. It is not clear, however, if these microbes were living far underground, or if they were introduced by outside sources like the fracking fluid. In the coming months pristine core samples will be collected at nine specific depths from a dedicated science well before fracking starts to give researchers the opportunity to see what lives in the shale rock.

These studies are part of the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory (MSEEL), a $11 million initiative. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and its partners, West Virginia University (WVU), Northeast Natural Energy (NNE), and The Ohio State University, monitor the process and progress of unconventional gas production at a Marcellus Shale well in the Morgantown Industrial Park near Morgantown, WV, USA. This long-term field site aims to develop and validate new knowledge and technology to improve recovery efficiency and minimize environmental implications of unconventional resource development.

The project gives researchers access to a dedicated science well. NNE deploys a range of next-generation well-completion technologies designed to increase operational efficiency and reduce environmental impact. MSEEL will also provide a venue to train and educate next-generation scientists and engineers.


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