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Title: Toxicity of hydraulic fracturing wastewater from black shale natural-gas wells influenced by well maturity and chemical additives
Hydraulic fracturing of deep shale formations generates large volumes of wastewater that must be managed through treatment, reuse, or disposal. Produced wastewater liberates formation-derived radionuclides and contains previously uncharacterized organohalides thought to be generated within the shale well, both posing unknown toxicity to human and ecological health. Here, we assess the toxicity of 42 input media and produced fluid samples collected from four wells in the Utica formation and Marcellus Shale using two distinct endpoint screening assays. Broad spectrum acute toxicity was assessed using a bioluminescence inhibition assay employing the halotolerant bacterium Aliivibrio fischeri , while predictive mammalian cytotoxicity was evaluated using a N -acetylcysteine (NAC) thiol reactivity assay. The acute toxicity and thiol reactivity of early-stage flowback was higher than later produced fluids, with levels diminishing through time as the natural gas wells matured. Acute toxicity of early stage flowback and drilling muds were on par with the positive control, 3,5-dichlorophenol (6.8 mg L −1 ). Differences in both acute toxicity and thiol reactivity between paired natural gas well samples were associated with specific chemical additives. Samples from wells containing a larger diversity and concentration of organic additives resulted in higher acute toxicity, while samples from a well applying a higher composition of ammonium persulfate, a strong oxidizer, showed greater thiol reactivity, predictive of higher mammalian toxicity. Both acute toxicity and thiol reactivity are consistently detected in produced waters, in some cases present up to nine months after hydraulic fracturing. These results support that specific chemical additives, the reactions generated by the additives, or the constituents liberated from the formation by the additives contribute to the toxicity of hydraulic fracturing produced waters and reinforces the need for careful consideration of early produced fluid management.  more » « less
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Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts
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National Science Foundation
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