EPA Urges New York to Set Radiation Limits for Fracking Wastewater

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urged New York state regulators to establish safe limits of radioactive materials in hyrdaulic fracturing (fracking) waste water before allowing it to be taken to municipal water treatment facilities.

The call for action essentially tells New York it should halt fracking activity altogether until the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation set those standards. Last year, a New York Times investigation revealed excessive and dangerous amounts of radium and other radioactive and possibly carcinogenic materials in fracking waste water being sent to municipal treatment facilities in Pennsylvania, a hub for fracking activity.

That investigation also determined that no facility existed in Pennsylvania which could properly remove the toxins from fracking waste water. A facility designed to handle fracking waste water has been built in the state but water must be taken there and then on to another treatment facility before it is released back to the public supply.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) sent its proposed fracking regulations to the EPA for review and received 44 pages of comments on the rules in return. Most of the comments from the EPA dealt with the radioactive nature of fracking drilling and how New York planned to handle that aspect of it, according to a report from AP. The EPA comments were delivered to New York regulators on Wednesday.

The EPA is still conducting its review of the fracking process and sources tell AP that review is focusing on the massive amount of water used in the exploratory drilling process and how it is handled, stored and disposed as waste water. Fracking uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water and no tests exist showing that waste water generated from the drilling as the fluid rushes back to the surface at the end of the process can ever be treated and all toxins removed.

In fact, regulators at the local, state and federal levels have yet to draft regulations mandating a company using the fracking process to extract natural gas or oil from underground shale and rock formations to disclose all the chemicals used alongside that fresh water and sand in fracking.

The EPA also wants New York’s DEC to generate a “publicly accesible” map of fracking wells proposed or active in the state. This map should detail the level of activity at the well, whether it is in construction, is proposed or is active. It should also show sources of fresh water and the proximity of fracking wells to fresh water sources. The federal agency said it agreed with a proposed New York rule which would ban fracking drilling in watersheds near New York City and Syracuse.

New York has not discussed the use of underground injection wells to dispose of fracking waste water. They are not used in Pennsylvania, either. Where they are used, troubles with numerous earthquakes has prompted investigations into the danger of disposing of fracking waste water in that manner. Pennsylvania and New York, sitting atop the largest portion of the massive Marcellus shale formation, are attempting to store and then treat fracking waste water. DEC should establish safe limits of radioactive material in that water before it is sent to a water treatment plant, the EPA said in its findings.

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