During hydraulic fracturing, a technique often used to extract hydrocarbons from shales, large volumes of water are injected into the subsurface. Although the injected fluid typically contains various reagents, it can become further contaminated by interaction with minerals present in the rocks. Pyrite, which is common in organic-rich shales, is a potential source of toxic elements, including arsenic and lead, and it is generally thought that for these elements to become mobilized, pyrite must first dissolve. Here, we use atomic force microscopy and environmental scanning electron microscopy to show that during fluid-rock interaction, the dissolution of carbonate minerals in Eagle Ford shale leads to the physical detachment, and mobilization, of embedded pyrite grains. In experiments carried out over a range of pH, salinity, and temperature we found that in all cases pyrite particles became detached from the shale surfaces. On average, the amount of pyrite detached was equivalent to 6.5 × 10-11 mol m-2 s-1, which is over an order of magnitude greater than the rate of pyrite oxidation expected under similar conditions. This result suggests that mechanical detachment of pyrite grains could be an important pathway for the mobilization of arsenic in hydraulic fracturing operations and in groundwater systems containing shales.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the Israel Science Foundation for generous financial support and the Israel Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor, Richard Valentine, for their helpful comments.
© 2017 American Chemical Society.