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Concept: Petroleum


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


Over the past ten years, unconventional gas and oil drilling (UGOD) has markedly expanded in the United States. Despite substantial increases in well drilling, the health consequences of UGOD toxicant exposure remain unclear. This study examines an association between wells and healthcare use by zip code from 2007 to 2011 in Pennsylvania. Inpatient discharge databases from the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council were correlated with active wells by zip code in three counties in Pennsylvania. For overall inpatient prevalence rates and 25 specific medical categories, the association of inpatient prevalence rates with number of wells per zip code and, separately, with wells per km2 (separated into quantiles and defined as well density) were estimated using fixed-effects Poisson models. To account for multiple comparisons, a Bonferroni correction with associations of p<0.00096 was considered statistically significant. Cardiology inpatient prevalence rates were significantly associated with number of wells per zip code (p<0.00096) and wells per km2 (p<0.00096) while neurology inpatient prevalence rates were significantly associated with wells per km2 (p<0.00096). Furthermore, evidence also supported an association between well density and inpatient prevalence rates for the medical categories of dermatology, neurology, oncology, and urology. These data suggest that UGOD wells, which dramatically increased in the past decade, were associated with increased inpatient prevalence rates within specific medical categories in Pennsylvania. Further studies are necessary to address healthcare costs of UGOD and determine whether specific toxicants or combinations are associated with organ-specific responses.

Concepts: Medicine, Statistics, Petroleum, Statistical significance, The Association, Multiple comparisons, Natural gas, Bonferroni correction


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


The Deepwater Horizon disaster released more than 636 million L of crude oil into the northern Gulf of Mexico. The spill oiled upper surface water spawning habitats for many commercially and ecologically important pelagic fish species. Consequently, the developing spawn (embryos and larvae) of tunas, swordfish, and other large predators were potentially exposed to crude oil-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Fish embryos are generally very sensitive to PAH-induced cardiotoxicity, and adverse changes in heart physiology and morphology can cause both acute and delayed mortality. Cardiac function is particularly important for fast-swimming pelagic predators with high aerobic demand. Offspring for these species develop rapidly at relatively high temperatures, and their vulnerability to crude oil toxicity is unknown. We assessed the impacts of field-collected Deepwater Horizon (MC252) oil samples on embryos of three pelagic fish: bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and an amberjack. We show that environmentally realistic exposures (1-15 µg/L total PAH) cause specific dose-dependent defects in cardiac function in all three species, with circulatory disruption culminating in pericardial edema and other secondary malformations. Each species displayed an irregular atrial arrhythmia following oil exposure, indicating a highly conserved response to oil toxicity. A considerable portion of Gulf water samples collected during the spill had PAH concentrations exceeding toxicity thresholds observed here, indicating the potential for losses of pelagic fish larvae. Vulnerability assessments in other ocean habitats, including the Arctic, should focus on the developing heart of resident fish species as an exceptionally sensitive and consistent indicator of crude oil impacts.

Concepts: Heart, Fish, Petroleum, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Tuna, Thunnus, Scombridae, Yellowfin tuna


A number of analyses, meta-analyses, and assessments, including those performed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the International Energy Agency, have concluded that deployment of a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies makes a transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system both more feasible and less costly than other pathways. In contrast, Jacobson et al. [Jacobson MZ, Delucchi MA, Cameron MA, Frew BA (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112(49):15060-15065] argue that it is feasible to provide “low-cost solutions to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of WWS [wind, water and solar power] across all energy sectors in the continental United States between 2050 and 2055”, with only electricity and hydrogen as energy carriers. In this paper, we evaluate that study and find significant shortcomings in the analysis. In particular, we point out that this work used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions. Policy makers should treat with caution any visions of a rapid, reliable, and low-cost transition to entire energy systems that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

Concepts: Petroleum, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Solar energy, Wind power, Hydroelectricity, International Energy Agency, Pumped-storage hydroelectricity


During the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the application of 7 million liters of chemical dispersants aimed to stimulate microbial crude oil degradation by increasing the bioavailability of oil compounds. However, the effects of dispersants on oil biodegradation rates are debated. In laboratory experiments, we simulated environmental conditions comparable to the hydrocarbon-rich, 1,100 m deep plume that formed during the Deepwater Horizon discharge. The presence of dispersant significantly altered the microbial community composition through selection for potential dispersant-degrading Colwellia, which also bloomed in situ in Gulf deep waters during the discharge. In contrast, oil addition to deepwater samples in the absence of dispersant stimulated growth of natural hydrocarbon-degrading Marinobacter. In these deepwater microcosm experiments, dispersants did not enhance heterotrophic microbial activity or hydrocarbon oxidation rates. An experiment with surface seawater from an anthropogenically derived oil slick corroborated the deepwater microcosm results as inhibition of hydrocarbon turnover was observed in the presence of dispersants, suggesting that the microcosm findings are broadly applicable across marine habitats. Extrapolating this comprehensive dataset to real world scenarios questions whether dispersants stimulate microbial oil degradation in deep ocean waters and instead highlights that dispersants can exert a negative effect on microbial hydrocarbon degradation rates.

Concepts: Bacteria, Water, Petroleum, Carbon, Experiment, Mexico, Natural gas, Microbial biodegradation


Acute catastrophic events can cause significant damage to marine environments in a short time period and may have devastating long-term impacts. In April 2010 the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon (DWH) offshore oil rig exploded, releasing an estimated 760 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This study examines the potential effects of oil spill exposure on coral larvae of the Florida Keys. Larvae of the brooding coral, Porites astreoides, and the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea faveolata, were exposed to multiple concentrations of BP Horizon source oil (crude, weathered and WAF), oil in combination with the dispersant Corexit® 9500 (CEWAF), and dispersant alone, and analyzed for behavior, settlement, and survival. Settlement and survival of P. astreoides and M. faveolata larvae decreased with increasing concentrations of WAF, CEWAF and Corexit® 9500, however the degree of the response varied by species and solution. P. astreoides larvae experienced decreased settlement and survival following exposure to 0.62 ppm source oil, while M. faveolata larvae were negatively impacted by 0.65, 1.34 and 1.5 ppm, suggesting that P. astreoides larvae may be more tolerant to WAF exposure than M. faveolata larvae. Exposure to medium and high concentrations of CEWAF (4.28/18.56 and 30.99/35.76 ppm) and dispersant Corexit® 9500 (50 and 100 ppm), significantly decreased larval settlement and survival for both species. Furthermore, exposure to Corexit® 9500 resulted in settlement failure and complete larval mortality after exposure to 50 and 100 ppm for M. faveolata and 100 ppm for P. astreoides. These results indicate that exposure of coral larvae to oil spill related contaminants, particularly the dispersant Corexit® 9500, has the potential to negatively impact coral settlement and survival, thereby affecting the resilience and recovery of coral reefs following exposure to oil and dispersants.

Concepts: Petroleum, Coral, Coral reef, Gulf of Mexico, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oil spill, Florida Keys, Oil platform


Coastal salt marshes are highly sensitive wetland ecosystems that can sustain long-term impacts from anthropogenic events such as oil spills. In this study, we examined the microbial communities of a Gulf of Mexico coastal salt marsh during and after the influx of petroleum hydrocarbons following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Total hydrocarbon concentrations in salt marsh sediments were highest in June and July 2010 and decreased in September 2010. Coupled PhyloChip and GeoChip microarray analyses demonstrated that the microbial community structure and function of the extant salt marsh hydrocarbon-degrading microbial populations changed significantly during the study. The relative richness and abundance of phyla containing previously described hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria) increased in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments and then decreased once hydrocarbons were below detection. Firmicutes, however, continued to increase in relative richness and abundance after hydrocarbon concentrations were below detection. Functional genes involved in hydrocarbon degradation were enriched in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments then declined significantly (p<0.05) once hydrocarbon concentrations decreased. A greater decrease in hydrocarbon concentrations among marsh grass sediments compared to inlet sediments (lacking marsh grass) suggests that the marsh rhizosphere microbial communities could also be contributing to hydrocarbon degradation. The results of this study provide a comprehensive view of microbial community structural and functional dynamics within perturbed salt marsh ecosystems.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Petroleum, Marsh, Wetland, Swamp, Carbon, Salt marsh


BACKGROUND: Lignin is often overlooked in the valorization of lignocellulosic biomass, but lignin-based materials and chemicals represent potential value-added products for biorefineries that could significantly improve the economics of a biorefinery. Fluctuating crude oil prices and changing fuel specifications are some of the driving factors to develop new technologies that could be used to convert polymeric lignin into low molecular weight lignin and or monomeric aromatic feedstocks to assist in the displacement of the current products associated with the conversion of a whole barrel of oil. We present an approach to produce these chemicals based on the selective breakdown of lignin during ionic liquid pretreatment. RESULTS: The lignin breakdown products generated are found to be dependent on the starting biomass, and significant levels were generated on dissolution at 160[degree sign]C for 6 hrs. Guaiacol was produced on dissolution of biomass and technical lignins. Vanillin was produced on dissolution of kraft lignin and eucalytpus. Syringol and allyl guaiacol were the major products observed on dissolution of switchgrass and pine, respectively, whereas syringol and allyl syringol were obtained by dissolution of eucalyptus. Furthermore, it was observed that different lignin-derived products could be generated by tuning the process conditions. CONCLUSIONS: We have developed an ionic liquid based process that depolymerizes lignin and converts the low molecular weight lignin fractions into a variety of renewable chemicals from biomass. The generated chemicals (phenols, guaiacols, syringols, eugenol, catechols), their oxidized products (vanillin, vanillic acid, syringaldehyde) and their easily derivatized hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, biphenyls and cyclohexane) already have relatively high market value as commodity and specialty chemicals, green building materials, nylons, and resins.

Concepts: Gasoline, Petroleum, Benzene, Lignin, Phenols, Vanillin, Guaiacol, Eugenol


The considerable increase in biodiesel production worldwide in the last 5 years resulted in a stoichiometric increased coproduction of crude glycerol. As an excess of crude glycerol has been produced, its value on market was reduced and it is becoming a “waste-stream” instead of a valuable “coproduct”. The development of biorefineries, i.e. production of chemicals and power integrated with conversion processes of biomass into biofuels, has been singled out as a way to achieve economically viable production chains, valorize residues and coproducts, and reduce industrial waste disposal. In this sense, several alternatives aimed at the use of crude glycerol to produce fuels and chemicals by microbial fermentation have been evaluated. This review summarizes different strategies employed to produce biofuels and chemicals (1,3-propanediol, 2,3-butanediol, ethanol, n-butanol, organic acids, polyols and others) by microbial fermentation of glycerol. Initially, the industrial use of each chemical is briefly presented; then we systematically summarize and discuss the different strategies to produce each chemical, including selection and genetic engineering of producers, and optimization of process conditions to improve yield and productivity. Finally, the impact of the developments obtained until now are placed in perspective and opportunities and challenges for using crude glycerol to the development of biodiesel-based biorefineries are considered. In conclusion, the microbial fermentation of glycerol represents a remarkable alternative to add value to the biodiesel production chain helping the development of biorefineries, which will allow this biofuel to be more competitive.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Ethanol, Petroleum, Anaerobic digestion, Biofuel, Glycerol, Biomass, Biodiesel