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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Auburn University
  • Natalie Capiro
  • (334) 844-4369
Award Date:10/10/2019
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 54,595
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 54,595
  • FY 2018=$54,595
Start Date:09/01/2019
End Date:06/30/2020
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.041
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:EAGER: Assessment of Coupled Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Mass Transfer and Biodegradation in Shallow Aquifer Systems
Federal Award ID Number:1952439
DUNS ID:066470972
Parent DUNS ID:066470972
Program:EnvE-Environmental Engineering
Program Officer:
  • Karl Rockne
  • (703) 292-5356

Awardee Location

Street:310 Samford Hall
City:Auburn University
County:Auburn University
Awardee Cong. District:03

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Auburn University
County:Auburn University
Cong. District:03

Abstract at Time of Award

Hydraulic fracturing fluids (HFFs) are fluid mixtures used for hydraulic extraction of petroleum (fracking). Despite the implementation of measures designed to contain HFFs during operation, accidental releases associated with transportation, fluid mixing, injection, storage, and well casing failures have led to contamination of drinking water supplies by HFFs. Such releases can impact soil, surface waters, and/or aquifers, potentially requiring corrective action to limit the extent of contamination. Further, as HFFs are complex mixtures, it is necessary to understand the environmental fate of all components of the mixture, which includes organic additives, surfactants, biocides, and salts. The proposed research aims to obtain a more complete understanding of the biological and chemical reactions impacting HFF in the environment. These results will help to inform regulatory decisions, and provide the technical basis for sustainable management and remediation strategies for HFF releases to the environment. The project will also incorporate education initiatives beyond the traditional framework of classroom instruction and scholarly publication, through the inclusion of undergraduate students in laboratory research. This research will also help to strengthen the Nation?s pool of talent through the recruitment of female and underrepresented minority science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students. Finally, the results will be broadly impactful through the sharing with practitioners through collaboration with environmental consulting firms, as well as to communities that may be disproportionately burdened by hydraulic fracturing. Previous studies have shown the potential susceptibility of organic compounds (e.g., petroleum hydrocarbons, gelling agents and biocides) in hydraulic fracturing fluid (HFF) to natural attenuation in field samples obtained from deep shale and in laboratory-scale reactors. However, the physical-chemical mass transfer and biologically-mediated transformation reactions of specific HFF components in the environment is largely unknown, potentially threatening the safety of drink water supplies impacted by HFF releases. The goal of the research is to investigate HFF under conditions representative of shallow aquifers, with an emphasis on biotic transformations of HFF organic constituents (e.g., naphthalene and benzene). The research program is structured around three tasks that are designed to: (1) develop a well-characterized synthetic HFF mixture and characterize field-derived flowback, (2) measure the sorption and desorption of HFF constituents as a function of soil properties and salinity, and (3) quantify HFF biodegradation, microbial community response and catabolic gene expression as a function of HFF exposure concentration. Novel aspects of this research include the coupling of microbial community analysis with targeted molecular techniques to assess both structure and function, and the use of advanced mass spectrometry techniques to characterize effluent streams and identify degradation products. Results of this work will improve understanding of: (a) natural attenuation processes (physical-chemical and biological) impacting organic compound reactivity and byproduct formation in a complex, high organic carbon waste stream, (b) the potential of native subsurface microbial communities to influence HFF mass transfer (and ultimately, HFF constituent longevity) and, (c) a sustainable, low-intensity approach (i.e., natural attenuation) for remediation and management of HFF-impacted sites. Specifically, the experimental rate parameters derived from this work will assist environmental professionals assess natural attenuation capacity for a range of environmentally relevant conditions. Further, these results will provide preliminary data and the technical basis for the design of future studies examining the fate and transport of HFF in multi-dimensional systems, and aid in the development mathematical models for improved management of HFF in shallow aquifer systems. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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