Fracking Fluid Study Illustrates Damage to Plant Life

A new study is raising some serious questions about the wastewater produced as a result of <"">hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to a study from the U.S. Forest Service, fracking flowback water can be deadly to plant life.

The new study, published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, was conducted by Mary Beth Adams. According to a report from the Colorado Independent, Adams doused a quarter-acre plot of land in West Virginia’s Fernow Experimental Forest (located within the Monongahela National Forest) with 75,000 gallons of fracking fluid, a method of disposal currently legal in that state.

According to Adams, groundcover exposed to the fracking water died almost immediately, while leaves on trees began to turn brown after two days. Within two years, more than half of 150 trees in the area died. Testing also found that surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold as a result of the fracking fluids.

Adams noted that the exact chemical composition of fracking fluids is not known because the chemical formula is classified as confidential proprietary information. However, she said it was her understanding that most fracking fluids are generally the same. It was the saltiness of the fluid that caused the vegetation die-off.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said Adam’s study suggested that fracking fluids should be treated as toxic waste.

“The explosion of shale gas drilling in the East has the potential to turn large stretches of public lands into lifeless moonscapes,” Ruch said in a statement.

Representatives of the natural gas industry have disputed Adam’s findings, claiming they are “not practicable” because a very large volume of the fluid was sprayed on a small area of land. But according to a report from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, drilling accidents in Pennsylvania have allowed large quantities of fracking fluid to spill onto the ground. Vegetation die-offs similar to what was seen in the West Virginia study have occurred in Pennsylvania as a result of such accidents.

“In the Northern part of Pennsylvania, there have been several spills where frack flowback escaped the well pad and containment area and caused damage to vegetation, particularly fields that adjoin the well sites,” a spokesperson from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) told the Patriot-News in an email.

Fracking fluid spills that were the result of truck accidents have also damaged vegetation, the spokesperson said.

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