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Concept: Hydrocarbon


Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming energy production, but their potential environmental effects remain controversial. We analyzed 141 drinking water wells across the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006). Ethane was 23 times higher in homes <1 km from gas wells (P = 0.0013); propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within approximately 1 km distance (P = 0.01). Of three factors previously proposed to influence gas concentrations in shallow groundwater (distances to gas wells, valley bottoms, and the Appalachian Structural Front, a proxy for tectonic deformation), distance to gas wells was highly significant for methane concentrations (P = 0.007; multiple regression), whereas distances to valley bottoms and the Appalachian Structural Front were not significant (P = 0.27 and P = 0.11, respectively). Distance to gas wells was also the most significant factor for Pearson and Spearman correlation analyses (P < 0.01). For ethane concentrations, distance to gas wells was the only statistically significant factor (P < 0.005). Isotopic signatures (δ(13)C-CH4, δ(13)C-C2H6, and δ(2)H-CH4), hydrocarbon ratios (methane to ethane and propane), and the ratio of the noble gas (4)He to CH4 in groundwater were characteristic of a thermally postmature Marcellus-like source in some cases. Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.

Concepts: Statistics, Hydrogen, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas, Methane, Ethane, Shale gas


Emissions of organic substances with potential toxicity to humans and the environment are a major concern surrounding the rapid industrial development in the Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR). Although concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in some environmental samples have been reported, a comprehensive picture of organic contaminant sources, pathways, and sinks within the AOSR has yet to be elucidated. We sought to use a dynamic multimedia environmental fate model to reconcile the emissions and residue levels reported for three representative PAHs in the AOSR. Data describing emissions to air compiled from two official sources result in simulated concentrations in air, soil, water, and foliage that tend to fall close to or below the minimum measured concentrations of phenanthrene, pyrene, and benzo(a)pyrene in the environment. Accounting for evaporative emissions (e.g., from tailings pond disposal) provides a more realistic representation of PAH distribution in the AOSR. Such indirect emissions to air were found to be a greater contributor of PAHs to the AOSR atmosphere relative to reported direct emissions to air. The indirect pathway transporting uncontrolled releases of PAHs to aquatic systems via the atmosphere may be as significant a contributor of PAHs to aquatic systems as other supply pathways. Emission density estimates for the three PAHs that account for tailings pond disposal are much closer to estimated global averages than estimates based on the available emissions datasets, which fall close to the global minima. Our results highlight the need for improved accounting of PAH emissions from oil sands operations, especially in light of continued expansion of these operations.

Concepts: Petroleum, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Organic chemistry, Hydrocarbon, Aromaticity, Naphthalene, Phenanthrene, Anthracene


BACKGROUND: Bronchial asthma is one of the most prevalent diseases in Arab children. Environmental pollution has been suggested to be considered causative of asthma, nasal symptoms and bronchitis in both children and adult. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the association between serum polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) levels, asthma and allergic outcomes among Saudi children aged up to 15 yrs. We hypothesized that increased serum PAHs are associated with allergy, asthma, or respiratory symptoms. METHODS: A total of 195 Saudi children (98 asthma pediatric patients and 97 healthy controls) were randomly selected from the Riyadh Cohort Study for inclusion. The diagnosis of Asthma was based on established pediatric diagnosis and medications taken. RESULTS: Asthma related markers showed highly significant differences between children with and without asthma. Thus IgE, resistin and IL-4 were significantly increased (p 0.004, 0.001 and 0.003, respectively) in children with asthma compared with non-asthma control subjects. GMCSF, IFN-gamma, IL-5, IL-8 and IL-10, on the other hand, were significantly decreased in children with asthma (p 0.003, 0.03, 0.001, 0.004 and 0.03, respectively). Strong associations between serum PAHs levels and biomarkers of childhood asthma were detected in Arabic children. Data confirmed the role of naphthalene, 4H-cyclobenta[def]phenanthrene, 1,2-benzanthracene, chrysene and benzo(e)acephenanthrylene in childhood asthma; levels of these PAHs were correlated with asthma related biomarkers including IgE, resistin, GMCSF and IFN-gamma as well as IL-4, IL-5, IL-8 and IL-10 cytokines. CONCLUSIONS: This data highlight the pivotal role of specific PAHs in childhood asthma.

Concepts: Asthma, Allergy, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Benzene, Hydrocarbon, Aromaticity, Naphthalene, Chrysene


Cholesterol has been suggested to play a role in stable vesicle formation by adjusting the molecular packing of the vesicular bilayer. To explore the mechanisms involved in adjusting the bilayer structure by cholesterol, the molecular packing behavior in a mimic outer layer of cationic dialkyldimethylammonium bromide (DXDAB)/cholesterol vesicular bilayer was investigated by the Langmuir monolayer approach with infrared reflection-absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS). The results indicated that the addition of cholesterol in the DXDAB Langmuir monolayers not only restrained the desorption of the DXDAB with short hydrocarbon chains, such as ditetradecyldimethylammonium bromide or dihexadecyldimethylammonium bromide, into the aqueous phase but also induced a condensing effect on the DXDAB monolayers. At a liquid-expanded (LE) state, the ordering effect of cholesterol accompanying the condensing effect occurred in the mixed DXDAB/cholesterol monolayers due to the tendency of maximizing hydrocarbon chain contact between cholesterol and the neighboring hydrocarbon chains. However, for the mixed monolayers containing the DXDAB with long hydrocarbon chains, such as dioctadecyldimethylammonium bromide (DODAB), the disordering effect of cholesterol took place at a liquid-condensed (LC) state. This was related to the molecular structure of cholesterol and hydrocarbon chain length of DODAB. The rigid sterol ring of cholesterol hindered the portion of neighboring hydrocarbon chains from motion. However, the flexible alkyl side-chain of cholesterol along with the corresponding portion of neighboring hydrocarbon chains formed a fluidic region, counteracting the enhanced conformational order induced by the sterol ring of cholesterol. Furthermore, the long hydrocarbon chains of DODAB possessed a more pronounced motion freedom, resulting in a more disordered packing of the monolayers.

Concepts: Hydrocarbon, Physical chemistry, Steroid, Molecular geometry, Lipid bilayer, Infrared spectroscopy, Monolayer, Langmuir


Biofuels are the most immediate, practical solution for mitigating dependence on fossil hydrocarbons, but current biofuels (alcohols and biodiesels) require significant downstream processing and are not fully compatible with modern, mass-market internal combustion engines. Rather, the ideal biofuels are structurally and chemically identical to the fossil fuels they seek to replace (i.e., aliphatic n- and iso-alkanes and -alkenes of various chain lengths). Here we report on production of such petroleum-replica hydrocarbons in Escherichia coli. The activity of the fatty acid (FA) reductase complex from Photorhabdus luminescens was coupled with aldehyde decarbonylase from Nostoc punctiforme to use free FAs as substrates for alkane biosynthesis. This combination of genes enabled rational alterations to hydrocarbon chain length (Cn) and the production of branched alkanes through upstream genetic and exogenous manipulations of the FA pool. Genetic components for targeted manipulation of the FA pool included expression of a thioesterase from Cinnamomum camphora (camphor) to alter alkane Cn and expression of the branched-chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase complex and β-keto acyl-acyl carrier protein synthase III from Bacillus subtilis to synthesize branched (iso-) alkanes. Rather than simply reconstituting existing metabolic routes to alkane production found in nature, these results demonstrate the ability to design and implement artificial molecular pathways for the production of renewable, industrially relevant fuel molecules.

Concepts: Fatty acid, Ethanol, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Biofuel, Methane, Internal combustion engine


Methane emissions from natural gas delivery and end use must be quantified to evaluate the environmental impacts of natural gas and to develop and assess the efficacy of emission reduction strategies. We report natural gas emission rates for 1 y in the urban region of Boston, using a comprehensive atmospheric measurement and modeling framework. Continuous methane observations from four stations are combined with a high-resolution transport model to quantify the regional average emission flux, 18.5 ± 3.7 (95% confidence interval) g CH4⋅m(-2)⋅y(-1). Simultaneous observations of atmospheric ethane, compared with the ethane-to-methane ratio in the pipeline gas delivered to the region, demonstrate that natural gas accounted for ∼60-100% of methane emissions, depending on season. Using government statistics and geospatial data on natural gas use, we find the average fractional loss rate to the atmosphere from all downstream components of the natural gas system, including transmission, distribution, and end use, was 2.7 ± 0.6% in the Boston urban region, with little seasonal variability. This fraction is notably higher than the 1.1% implied by the most closely comparable emission inventory.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Atmosphere, Natural gas, Methane, Saturn, Titan


The sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico led to uncontrolled emission of oil to the ocean, with an official government estimate of ∼5.0 million barrels released. Among the pressing uncertainties surrounding this event is the fate of ∼2 million barrels of submerged oil thought to have been trapped in deep-ocean intrusion layers at depths of ∼1,000-1,300 m. Here we use chemical distributions of hydrocarbons in >3,000 sediment samples from 534 locations to describe a footprint of oil deposited on the deep-ocean floor. Using a recalcitrant biomarker of crude oil, 17α(H),21β(H)-hopane (hopane), we have identified a 3,200-km(2) region around the Macondo Well contaminated by ∼1.8 ± 1.0 × 10(6) g of excess hopane. Based on spatial, chemical, oceanographic, and mass balance considerations, we calculate that this contamination represents 4-31% of the oil sequestered in the deep ocean. The pattern of contamination points to deep-ocean intrusion layers as the source and is most consistent with dual modes of deposition: a “bathtub ring” formed from an oil-rich layer of water impinging laterally upon the continental slope (at a depth of ∼900-1,300 m) and a higher-flux “fallout plume” where suspended oil particles sank to underlying sediment (at a depth of ∼1,300-1,700 m). We also suggest that a significant quantity of oil was deposited on the ocean floor outside this area but so far has evaded detection because of its heterogeneous spatial distribution.

Concepts: Mathematics, Oceanography, Petroleum, Atlantic Ocean, Hydrocarbon, Mexico, Ocean, Deep sea


The Deepwater Horizon disaster drew global attention to the toxicity of crude oil and the potential for adverse health effects amongst marine life and spill responders in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The blowout released complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into critical pelagic spawning habitats for tunas, billfishes, and other ecologically important top predators. Crude oil disrupts cardiac function and has been associated with heart malformations in developing fish. However, the precise identity of cardiotoxic PAHs, and the mechanisms underlying contractile dysfunction are not known. Here we show that phenanthrene, a PAH with a benzene 3-ring structure, is the key moiety disrupting the physiology of heart muscle cells. Phenanthrene is a ubiquitous pollutant in water and air, and the cellular targets for this compound are highly conserved across vertebrates. Our findings therefore suggest that phenanthrene may be a major worldwide cause of vertebrate cardiac dysfunction.

Concepts: Heart, Petroleum, Muscle, Cardiac muscle, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Hydrocarbon, Aromaticity, Naphthalene


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are the main toxic compounds in natural bitumen, a fossil material used by modern and ancient societies around the world. The adverse health effects of PAHs on modern humans are well established, but their health impacts on past populations are unclear. It has previously been suggested that a prehistoric health decline among the native people living on the California Channel Islands may have been related to PAH exposure. Here, we assess the potential health risks of PAH exposure from the use and manufacture of bitumen-coated water bottles by ancient California Indian societies.

Concepts: Human, Petroleum, Carbon, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Benzene, Hydrocarbon, Aromatic hydrocarbon, Naphthalene


Decarbonizing the transportation sector is critical to achieving global climate change mitigation. Although biofuels will play an important role in conventional gasoline and diesel applications, bioderived solutions are particularly important in jet fuels and lubricants, for which no other viable renewable alternatives exist. Producing compounds for jet fuel and lubricant base oil applications often requires upgrading fermentation products, such as alcohols and ketones, to reach the appropriate molecular-weight range. Ketones possess both electrophilic and nucleophilic functionality, which allows them to be used as building blocks similar to alkenes and aromatics in a petroleum refining complex. Here, we develop a method for selectively upgrading biomass-derived alkyl methyl ketones with >95% yields into trimer condensates, which can then be hydrodeoxygenated in near-quantitative yields to give a new class of cycloalkane compounds. The basic chemistry developed here can be tailored for aviation fuels as well as lubricants by changing the production strategy. We also demonstrate that a sugarcane biorefinery could use natural synergies between various routes to produce a mixture of lubricant base oils and jet fuels that achieve net life-cycle greenhouse gas savings of up to 80%.

Concepts: Petroleum, Climate change, Hydrocarbon, Alkane, Coal, Lubricant, Internal combustion engine, Fuel