Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a controversial practice used to drill for natural gas, also causes uranium trapped inside shale formations to be released, according to a new study.
After mapping Marcellus shale concentrations in Western New York and Pennsylvania, researchers from the University of Buffalo determined that hydrocarbons — the organic compounds containing natural gas — and uranium are typically found in the same physical space.
And, critically, they found that the hydrocarbons and uranium are chemically-bound, increasing the chances that the uranium will be released to the surface during the hydro fracturing process, when drillers inject a mix of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure shale formations, creating fractures that release natural gas.
Water and drilling fluids containing uranium could possibly seep into groundwater and surface streams, posing a potential threat to human health, according to the study, to be presented next month at the meeting of the American Geological Society.
“We need a fundamental understanding of how uranium exists in shale,” said Tracy Banks, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo. “The more we understand about how it exists, the more we can better predict how it will react to ‘fracking.’”