Students Getting Involved

Tyler Umstead


Westminster College (2014)
Advisor - Helen M. Boylan, Ph.D.

Lab Analysis of Barium and Strontium in Frackwater Coupled with Website Design Empowers Local Communities Amidst Hydraulic Fracturing in Western Pennsylvania

As the U.S. seeks energy independence, natural gas is becoming an important alternative to oil or coal. The hydraulic fracturing used to acquire natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale poses possible risks to groundwater, thus endangering environmental and human health. Suspected groundwater contamination can be tested for the heavy metals barium and strontium, two signature components of produced frackwater. However, frackwater is a complex matrix with high concentrations of salts and metals and it’s very difficult to accurately determine the amount Ba and Sr without encountering instrumental interference. Calcium interferes with Ba analysis using FAAS because it has absorption bands with very similar wavelengths. Both Ba and Sr were isolated from Ca using a Dowex 1x8 (100-200 mesh) ion exchange resin using a nitric acid-methanol mixed solvent. To avoid spectral interference from Ca with flame atomic spectroscopy, Ba was analyzed with an ionic resonance line (455.5 nm) in absorbance mode while using a nitrous oxide-acetylene flame. Strontium was analyzed with La and K to suppress ionization at 460.7 nm in absorbance mode. Along with laboratory research, we have also worked with Lawrence and Mercer counties’ citizens by monitoring stream health through conductivity and total dissolved solids measurements. To enhance collaboration of volunteers, a website was created for the Lawrence and Mercer County Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) program (based on the Dickinson College ALLARM model). The website, which can be found at https//, provides free public access to the measurements taken, information on the hydraulic fracturing process, and a map of all the current shale gas wells in the area. Facing possible hydrofracking impacts on their streams, Lawrence and Mercer county communities benefit from the community-based research provided in the form of heavy metal testing and website development.

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Danielle Murtagh

Westminster College (2014)
Advisor - Helen M. Boylan, Ph.D.

Use of experimental design to minimize co-precipitation of barium and strontium from produced water from Marcellus Shale

As the natural gas industry expands, utilization of hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas also increases. The hydraulic fracturing process requires millions of gallons of water per well. Over time, these wells produce waste water (produced water) which contains very high concentrations of barium, strontium, sodium, iron, chlorides, and many other substances. Through a collaboration with ProChemTech International Inc., we are optimizing a treatment process for produced water which recovers sellable products in the process. For example, barium and strontium can be recovered as sulfates from produced water. However, due to their similar chemical properties, they tend to precipitate out of solution together. In order to optimize the separate recovery of barium and strontium from produced water, we use experimental design to study how various factors, such as the concentration of precipitating agent, temperature, and presence of a polymer, affect the precipitation process. Flame atomic absorption spectroscopy, inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy, and laser induced breakdown spectroscopy are used for analysis of precipitates and filtrates. The LIBS data is explored using chemometrics, with varying pretreatments, to determine the best model for data analysis.

Lance Jubic


Westminster College (2015)
Advisor - Helen M Boylan, Ph.D.

Treatment of hydraulic fracturing contaminated water using Closterium moniliferum: Protein expression and Ba and Sr elemental analysis

The algae Closterium moniliferum selectively accumulates the toxic, heavy metals Ba and Sr, which are incorporated as sulfate crystals. C. moniliferum could contain Ba and Sr release into the environment from hydraulic fracturing. In addition to dissolving natural gas, fracking fluid dissolves minerals containing Ba and Sr. Upon its recovery, Ba and Sr concentrations are thousands of parts per million. To assess the algae's candidacy as a remediator, protein expression and accumulation of Ba and Sr were characterized. Protein expression levels were constant when comparing SDS-PAGE gels of samples from media containing up to 10% fracking fluid. Cytosolic Ba and Sr accumulation rates were determined by FAAS. Binding of Ba and Sr to surface proteins were characterized by FTIR. The results support continued investigation of C. moniliferumas a remediator of fracking contaminated water.

Kelsey Kilbane


Westminster College (2016)
Advisor - Helen M Boylan, Ph.D.

Analysis of Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania near Hydraulic Fracturing Sites
Kelsey A. Kilbane, Christina Mauri, Helen M. Boylan, Jamie Linderman

Lawrence and Mercer counties, rural areas in western Pennsylvania along the Ohio border, have recently been the target of expanded development of unconventional oil and gas wells. Although the risk of surface water contamination from fracking is low, our community is committed to being vigilant of our stream quality. Six stream locations were chosen to be monitored based on their proximity to an existing or planned unconventional well and accessibility. These streams are being monitored routinely during the academic year, and for a 6-week duration, samples were collected on a weekly basis at upstream and downstream locations of each site. The tests conducted in the field on these streams were pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), conductivity, chloride, alkalinity, iron, hardness, total, calcium and turbidity, and a visual assessment was performed each time the sites were monitored. The water samples were also analyzed for metal content, including barium, strontium, calcium, and iron, by inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES). One of the seven sites that was monitored is being used to establish baseline water quality data near a planned well location. This planned fracking site is located in Wilmington Township (Lawrence County), a township that has recently considered controversial zoning ordinances for the oil and gas industry. Its location, in an agricultural zone close to Westminster College (and its pristine Field Station), is a great cause for concern to the community. The collected data is being shared with the public via the Lawrence and Mercer ALLARM webpage,