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Unconventional Oil and Gas Energy Systems: An Unidentified Hotspot of Antimicrobial Resistance?

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Biocides used in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) practices, such as hydraulic fracturing, control microbial growth. Unwanted microbial growth can cause gas souring, pipeline clogging, and microbial-induced corrosion of equipment and transportation pipes. However, optimizing biocide use has not been a priority. Moreover, biocide efficacy has been questioned because microbial surveys show an active microbial community in hydraulic fracturing produced and flowback water. Hydraulic fracturing produced and flowback water increases risks to surface aquifers and rivers/lakes near the UOG operations compared with conventional oil and gas operations. While some biocides and biocide degradation products have been highlighted as chemicals of concern because of their toxicity to humans and the environment, the selective antimicrobial pressure they cause has not been considered seriously. This perspective article aims to promote research to determine if antimicrobial pressure in these systems is cause for concern. UOG practices could potentially create antimicrobial resistance hotspots under-appreciated in the literature, practice, and regulation arena, hotspots that should not be ignored. The article is distinctive in discussing antimicrobial resistance risks associated with UOG biocides from a biological risk, not a chemical toxicology, perspective. We outline potential risks and highlight important knowledge gaps that need to be addressed to properly incorporate antimicrobial resistance emergence and selection into UOG environmental and health risk assessments.

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