Energy & Environment

Texas Researchers Find Harmful Bacteria In Groundwater Near Natural Gas Wells

The research found bacteria can be “quite prevalent” in groundwater already contaminated with various chemicals

A gas drilling rig is pictured in the Barnett Shale region of Texas in 2008.

Some Texans living near natural gas wells are drinking contaminated water.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington have found that certain bacteria can “thrive” in water that’s already contaminated with chemicals related to natural gas extraction.

Kevin Schug is the director of the university’s Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation – or “CLEAR” – lab.

“Some of these microbes are the type of bacteria that the World Health Organization doesn’t want you to be coming in contact with,” he said. “They have drug resistance and they can be pathogenic, and cause other adverse health effects.”

The research does not suggest the bacteria are directly caused by fracking. Schug said the chemicals in groundwater that were found to help the bacteria grow can be as seemingly harmless as chlorine – typically used as a disinfectant – and can even be tied to agricultural activities.

Still, his lab’s findings were from oil and gas-heavy areas of North and South Texas.

State regulators do monitor for bacteria in groundwater, but Schug said authorities should pay closer attention to this kind of contamination. And, he said, it needs to be cleaned up.

“In these cases, certainly for [the] presence of some of these bacteria, which are pathogenic, it’s gotta go.”

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Travis Bubenik

Travis Bubenik

Energy & Environment Reporter

Travis Bubenik reports on the tangled intersections of energy and the environment in Houston and across Texas. A Houston native and proud Longhorn, he returned to the Bayou City after serving as the Morning Edition Host & Reporter for Marfa Public Radio in Far West Texas. Bubenik was previously the...

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