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Response of Aquatic Bacterial Communities to Hydraulic Fracturing in Northwestern Pennsylvania: A Five-Year Study

  • Author(s): Ulrich, N
  • Kirchner, V
  • Drucker, R
  • Wright, JR
  • McLimans, CJ
  • Hazen, TC
  • Campa, MF
  • Grant, CJ
  • Lamendella, R
  • et al.

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© 2018 The Author(s). Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing extraction procedures have become increasingly present in Pennsylvania where the Marcellus Shale play is largely located. The potential for long-term environmental impacts to nearby headwater stream ecosystems and aquatic bacterial assemblages is still incompletely understood. Here, we perform high-throughput sequencing of the 16 S rRNA gene to characterize the bacterial community structure of water, sediment, and other environmental samples (n = 189) from 31 headwater stream sites exhibiting different histories of fracking activity in northwestern Pennsylvania over five years (2012-2016). Stream pH was identified as a main driver of bacterial changes within the streams and fracking activity acted as an environmental selector for certain members at lower taxonomic levels within stream sediment. Methanotrophic and methanogenic bacteria (i.e. Methylocystaceae, Beijerinckiaceae, and Methanobacterium) were significantly enriched in sites exhibiting Marcellus shale activity (MSA+) compared to MSA- streams. This study highlighted potential sentinel taxa associated with nascent Marcellus shale activity and some of these taxa remained as stable biomarkers across this five-year study. Identifying the presence and functionality of specific microbial consortia within fracking-impacted streams will provide a clearer understanding of the natural microbial community's response to fracking and inform in situ remediation strategies.

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