Thursday, October 23, 2014

URSP Student Andrea Fraser Researches Streambed Microbial Responses to Produced Water from Hydraulic Fracturing Operations

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to advance knowledge in environmental infrastructure. I am currently finishing my B.S. in Civil Engineering and will continue with graduate work in Environmental Health Engineering. I hope to work on sustainable infrastructure related projects and conduct research on ways to reduce negative environmental health impacts of infrastructure and civilization.

My current work is on streambed microbial responses to produced water from hydraulic fracturing operations. Large volumes of water are mixed with sand and chemicals before they are injected underground to extract natural gas during the hydraulic fracturing process. The mixture then returns to the surface as produced water that must be treated, managed, and disposed of.  In the event of a produced water spill, understanding microbial responses is important to further explore the potential for bioremediation of this contaminant.

I am fortunate to conduct my study with the Reston Microbiology Lab at U.S. Geological Survey to understand these impacts.  We set up microcosms containing sediments, microbes, stream water, and hydraulic fracturing fluid additives and have been monitoring the microbial responses over time. On a weekly basis I measure the headspace gas on the microcosms to understand if the microbes are operating under oxic or anoxic conditions, as seen in my photo. I also read articles on hydraulic fracturing and produced water to guide my research. We will continue to analyze the data we are collecting on various other biological parameters to understand how these chemicals could affect the crucial microbial communities in sediments. 
I learn something new every day with this project. This week I discovered better ways to use the headspace gas analysis software so that the data is more accurate.