Fracking Wastewater Blamed for Pennsylvania Contamination

pennsylvania_fracking_contamination_wastewaterWastewater from hydraulic fracturing—fracking—released into local Pennsylvania streams contained contaminants, according to just released research.

The fracking waste was treated and released, but contained high levels of salts and other contaminants, according to LaboratoryEquipment.com. Those contaminants could pose a danger to aquatic and human health. Elevated levels of radioactive materials were also detected in stream sediments at the site of the disposal. The study appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, and also indicates that the researchers recommend that advanced treatment technologies be used to remove the potentially harmful material.

Avner Vengosh, Nathaniel Warner, and colleagues at Duke University wrote that while fracking has led to an increase in United States oil and gas production, fracking wastewater disposal is not without significant challenges. For example, fracking wastewater is five times saltier than seawater and also contains ingredients that are potentially dangerous to human health and the environment, LaboratoryEquipment.com reported.

One option that oil and gas companies have employed is to send fracking wastewater to a site were the fluids can be treated for release into local streams where it will be diluted. The researchers sought to understand how this method of disposal would affect the environment, according to LaboratoryEquipment.com.

For their research, the team tested the discharge as well as the downstream and upstream water from a wastewater disposal site located in western Pennsylvania. The scientists found, according to LaboratoryEquipment.com. that while the treatment removed some potentially harmful contaminants from wastewater—including more than 90 percent of the barium and radium—chloride and bromide levels remained high. Also, radium levels in stream sediments at the wastewater discharge site remained “200 times greater than upstream and background sediments and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal,” the researchers wrote.

We recently wrote that University of Texas at Arlington scientists conducted research that adds to mounting evidence that arsenic and other heavy metal contamination near natural gas fracking sites may be associated with fracking activities. According to the Aspen Business Journal, a presentation that The Los Angeles Times obtained, discussed increased arsenic levels in groundwater near wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered arsenic in the groundwater near Pavillion, Wyoming fracking sites; that study was later abandoned by the agency, according to the Aspen Business Journal.

Similar studies have been conducted in the Marcellus Shale located beneath a number of states, including Pennsylvania and New York. Tests there revealed “elevated constituents” such as heavy metals, specifically arsenic, selenium, and strontium that all tested at levels exceeding the EPA’s maximum contaminate limit for drinking water, as well as at levels exceeding what would be considered naturally occurring, according to ProPublica. Arsenic levels in fracking areas were seen at about 18 times higher than in non-fracking areas and the metal levels seen were at concentrations not considered normal.

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