fracking water contamination

  • Using Acid Mine Wastewater to Reduce Radioactivity of Fracking Wastewater

    A new study led by scientists from Duke University has revealed that radioactivity of fracking wastewater may be reduced by blending it with wastewater recovered from acid mine drainage. Wastewater from both fracking and acid mine drainage are known to pose a potential health risk both to the environment and to humans. However, laboratory test results from the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology in December 2013, have shown that when wastewater from these two sources are blended in the correct proportions it is possible to bind some of the contaminants found in fracking water into solids that facilitates their removal prior to the water being discharged into rivers.

    “This could be an effective way to treat Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing wastewater, while providing a beneficial use for acid mine drainage that currently is contaminating waterways in much of the northeastern United States,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. “It's a win-win for the industry and the environment.”

    Oil and Gas Drilling

    The above picture is of an oil and gas wastewater facility. Blending wastewater from fracking operations with wastewater from acid mine drainage could also provide a usable source of recycled water that can be used during hydro-fracking operations, which would in turn reduce the pressure on freshwater resources that are currently being unsustainably utilized and rapidly depleted.

    The hydraulic fracturing process involves pumping millions of tons of water into drilled gas wells under high pressure, which forces open fissures in the shale deposits, releasing the natural gas contained within so that it can be extracted. However, some of the water that is pumped into the well returns to the surface together with the natural gas being extracted. This fluid, commonly referred to as 'flowback fluid', typically consists of high concentrations of naturally occurring salts, metals (such as strontium and barium), and radioactive substances such as radium.

    A previous study conducted by the Duke research team revealed that the standard methods used to treat fracking wastewater only partially remove these potentially hazardous pollutants from fracking waste, resulting in radioactive wastewater being released into freshwater systems where they tend to accumulate in sediments of rivers and streams near the point of discharge.

    Acid mine drainage, which is potentially extremely toxic to fauna and flora as well as humans, seeps out old disused coal mines, contaminating many freshwater systems within the Appalachian Basin, negatively impacting the quality of water in hundreds of rivers and streams throughout West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

    As a large portion of Marcellus shale gas exploration is occurring in areas that were historically used to mine coal, experts proposed that acid mine drainage could offer an alternative and  more sustainable water source to use in fracking operations and reduce the pressure on limited freshwater sources, which are currently under strain.

    In order to test this theory, Vengosh and his fellow researchers blended various mixtures of Marcellus Shale hydro-fracking wastewater together with acid mine drainage – all samples where provided to them by operators drilling for gas in the western Pennsylvania area.

    After two days, the researchers assessed the chemical and radiological make-up of 26 of the blended mixtures, using geochemical modeling techniques to simulate both the physical and chemical reactions that took place after the fracking and acid mine drainage waste-waters were blended. The scientists then verified their results with x-ray diffraction and by taking radioactivity measurements from the solids that formed as a result of the mixing.

    “Our analysis suggested that several ions, including sulfate, iron, barium and strontium, as well as between 60 and 100 percent of the radium, had precipitated within the first 10 hours into newly formed solids composed mainly of strontium barite,” Vengosh said.


    It was now possible to separate the radioactive solids from the fluids so that they could be disposed of at an appropriate hazardous waste disposal site, and with the radioactive material safely removed, the water would pose less of an environmental and health risk if discharged when discharged into waterways. Moreover, because the blending process also removed salts, salinity levels were also reduced, making the wastewater now suitable to be recycled for use in the hydro-fracking process.

    “The next step is to test this in the field. While our laboratory tests show that is it technically possible to generate recycled, treated water suitable for hydraulic fracturing, field-scale tests are still necessary to confirm its feasibility under operational conditions,” Vengosh said.

    This sounds almost too good to be true - could two wrongs possibly make a right?

    NOTE: While the above research holds some promise for removing radioactive contaminants from the wastewater, it cannot remove pollutants from water that is not returned to the surface – i.e. frac-water full of chemicals and radioactive material that leaches through the ground to contaminate groundwater and drinking water in wells. If your water comes from a source that could be contaminated, rather take the necessary precautions to remove these potentially harmful pollutants by filtering your drinking water with a good quality water filter.

    Journal Reference:

    "Radium and Barium Removal through Blending Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids with Acid Mine Drainage," Andrew J. Kondash, Nathaniel R. Warner, Ori Lahav, Avner Vengosh. Environmental Science & Technology, Dec. 24, 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es403852h

  • Stray Gases Detected in Drinking Water Near Fracking Sites

    Residents living within a kilometer of shale gas sites face a high risk of having their drinking water contaminated by stray gases, according to a new study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    While shale gas is increasingly becoming an important source of U.S. natural gas, the method of extractions – using a process of drilling horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing – remains controversial due to the uncertain impact of this technique on the environment and to human health.

    Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as hydrofracking or simply fracking, involves pumping water mixed with sand and a variety of toxic chemicals into horizontal underground gas wells at high pressure to form fissures in the shale to release natural gas stored in pockets within the rock. The rapid expansion of fracking operations in the Marcellus shale region has fueled considerable debate and concern over the possibility of contamination of drinking water sources by both the chemicals used in fracking operations and the gases released.

    fracking schematic

    Expanding on their earlier study, which surveyed private drinking water wells situated near fracking operations in the Marcellus shale regions of New York and Pennsylvania for contamination with methane, this study, conducted by a team of researchers from Duke University, surveyed a further 141 drinking water wells, testing for ethane and propane in addition to methane gas. While none of the studies conducted by this research team have revealed evidence of contamination by chemicals used in fracking fluids, the results from the recent study showed that not only were concentrations of methane gas higher in wells situated within a kilometer of shale gas wells, but ethane and propane concentrations were higher too.  According to the study, concentrations of methane were six time greater at water wells within a kilometer of shale gas operations, while ethane concentrations were as much as 23 times greater. Propane gas was found in drinking water from 10 wells situated within a kilometer of shale drilling operations.

    “The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium isotopes, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners' water,” said Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. “In a minority of cases, the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by faulty well construction.”

    The ethane and propane contamination data are “new and hard to refute,” Jackson stressed. “There is no biological source of ethane and propane in the region and Marcellus gas is high in both, and higher in concentration than the Upper Devonian gas found in-between.”

    The researchers looked at a number of factors that might have affected the results, including topography, distance from geological formations or features, and distance from gas wells. According to Jackson, “Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled.”

    “Our studies demonstrate that distances from drilling sites, as well as variations in local and regional geology, play major roles in determining the possible risk of groundwater impacts from shale gas development,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School. “As such, they must be taken into consideration before drilling begins.”

    For homeowners situated near gas well sites who are concerned that their drinking water may be contaminated, it is recommended that drinking water is filtered with a top of the range drinking water filter to remove any volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals or toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to your family's health.

    Journal Reference

    Robert Jackson, Avner Vengosh, Thomas Darrah, Nathaniel Warner, Adrian Down, Robert Poreda, Stephen Osborn, Kaiguang Zhao, Jonathan Karr. Increased Stray Gas Abundance in a Subset of Drinking Water Wells Near Marcellus Shale Gas ExtractionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Online week of June 24, 2013.

  • Fracking: How Drinking Water Is Being Contaminated

    Fracking continues to be a highly controversial subject. On the one hand we need energy, and the abundant resource of natural gas right on our doorstep burns cleaner than fossil fuels, provides a far cheaper alternative to imported oil, and offers an excellent opportunity to be self-sufficient. But at what expense?

    Shale gas is found locked within the deposits of shale formations. The Marcellus Shale formation, is an exceptionally large shale bed that stretches between New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and is of particular interest to gas exploration companies due to the deep and even more extensive layer of shale that lies beneath it. However, environmental groups and concerned citizens are strongly opposed to fracking in the area due to concerns that groundwater could become tainted by chemicals and the methane gas itself. Their strong opposition won them a temporary reprieve with a one year moratorium on fracking in the area, however this has recently expired and now they are seeking to place a ban on the disposal of fracking waste in the area.

    The Process OF  Hydro Fracking

    The Upper Delaware River, recognized as America's most endangered river in 2010 by the NGO American Rivers, is one of many rivers in the country that are threatened by the environmental impact of hydro-fracking. It is feared that the methods used to extract gas using hydro-fracturing techniques have the potential to introduce toxic chemicals into the river and groundwater. The Delaware River supplies drinking water to more than 15.6 million US citizens, and there are concerns that fracking could contaminate the water supply putting the health of people dependent on this water source at risk.

    Water Contamination As A Result

    Hydro-fracking is a process of extracting natural gas trapped within fissures and pockets within rock (shale) formations. This process involves pumping a toxic brew of chemicals mixed with water and sand, into the ground at an extremely high pressure, which then fractures the underground fissures, forcing the gas trapped within to the surface.
    Millions of gallons of this toxic brew are pumped into these gas wells to extract the gas, and the concern is that this chemical laden concoction can only be bad for the environment and human health. Energy companies are not required to divulge what chemicals they use, because the chemicals used by individual gas companies during the exploration process is considered a trade secret, despite the dangers. Furthermore, heavy metals and other toxic substances that occur naturally within rock and sediments, including lead, arsenic, benzene, mercury, radium, chromium, strontium, barium, and m,p-Xylene, can be forced out during this process to contaminate the surrounding soil and nearby water sources. The potential impact on the natural environment and on human health and safety is significant, yet citizens are completely oblivious as to what chemicals their water may be contaminated with, or what they are being exposed to.

    Hydro Fracking

     

    Another concern is that methane gas that is forced through fissures in the rock can also make its way into groundwater systems, rivers, or private wells. Explosions have occurred, and as we've reported in the past, some water sources have such a high gas content that they can literally be set on fire! Levels of methane gas in water are not currently monitored, and there is little information on the health risks associated with consuming water that is tainted with methane.

    The Leftover Fracking Sludge

    According to the EPA, up to five million gallons of water can be used in a single horizontal gas well during the hydro-fracking process. This contaminated water and sludge has to go somewhere. While gas companies are supposed to ensure that their fracking waste is treated responsibly, environmental groups and local residents are concerned that there isn't sufficient facilities to cope with the amount of waste water and solids. New Jersey residents are particularly uneasy following their experiences with Hurricane Sandy, where sewage treatment facilities overflowed, contaminating local waterways and groundwater. If these waste treatment plants were treating fracking waste at the time, the consequences could have been devastating.

    If you live in an area where fracking is taking place and have no idea what you and your family are being exposed to, we recommend taking precautions to protect your health by filtering your drinking water with a good quality home water filter to remove any toxic chemicals, heavy metals and VOCs that may be present.

  • Voters in Longmont Colorado Reject Hydraulic Fracking With First-in-the-nation Ban

    By the end of October, oil and gas interests had spent more than half a million dollars opposing a local ballot measure in Longmont, Colorado. In spite of those resources, an overwhelming majority of voters approved a ban on hydraulic fracturing, injecting high-pressure water and solvents into deep underground bedrock to extract natural gas.

    Advocacy group Food & Water Watch writes in a post-election statement:

    For more than six months Longmont and its citizens have been of threatened, bullied and out-spent by the oil and gas industry. Longmont’s victory over this highly industrialized and dangerous oil and gas extraction process signals to communities throughout the state and the nation that they can and will prevail over state officials who answer to the oil and gas industry rather than to their constituents.

    According to Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont), “We have shown that Big Oil money does NOT always win and that our constitutionally guaranteed right to health, safety, and protection of property is NOT for sale. We proved that ordinary citizens with very little money but a lot of determination, intelligence, passion and boot leather can prevail.”

    While the Denver Post predicts the ban will be overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, opponents to fracking hope the victory emboldens other towns to take up their own measures.

    "The message sent by the voters in Longmont is loud and clear — their citizens do not want fracking in their town, and I imagine the citizens of Fort Collins won’t want it here, either,” Fort Collins City Councilwoman Lisa Poppaw told the Coloradan.

    Overall, environmental ballot questions, like environmental issues as a whole, got very little national press in the 2012 election season. Yet Nature Conservancy President Mark Tercek calls 2012 "one of the most successful years for conservation ballot measures ever." By the Conservancy's count, 46 out of 57 conservation funding measures passed to the tune of $1 billion for land and water protection.

    Want to learn more?  Do a search on "fracking" in the upper right hand corner of our site to read more articles we've written on the subject.

  • Fracking Our Drinking Water

    In 31 U.S. states, the natural gas industry employs a controversial drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water deep underground to fracture the bedrock and release natural gas trapped beneath. The process is largely unregulated by the states and this fracking debate has been heating up for years as a result. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed an energy bill that exempted natural gas drilling from the requirements of The Safe Drinking Water Act.

    For an entertaining overview of the issue, take a look at this video from Studio 20 NYU and ProPublica:


    EPA to Look at Fracking Impact on Drinking Water, Regulate Wastewater

    Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a few long-awaited details about its study of the drinking water implications of fracking.

    "The new EPA study will look at the entire water lifecycle of hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits, beginning with the industry's withdrawal of huge volumes of water from rivers and streams and ending with the treatment and disposal of the tainted wastewater that comes back out of the wells after fracking. Researchers will also study well design and the impact of surface spills of fracking fluids on groundwater," reports the Associated Press.

    EPA also began the process of regulating wastewater from fracking operations, which in many cases is stored on site it large lagoons and in others runs off into rivers or is pumped through municipal wastewater treatment, which may not be equipped to deal with drilling contaminants.

    The regulatory process is likely to take years and complete results of the study won't be ready until 2014.

    Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water

    In the mean time, communities around the country are accusing gas companies of contaminating well water with solvents, chemicals, and escaped natural gas. In the case of Dimrock, Pennsylvania, a company has been providing bottled water to residents since January 2009 because of widespread well contamination in the community linked to drilling. In another case, a house outside Cleveland Ohio exploded when methane seeped into the house through the plumbing.

    You may have seen this clip from the move Gasland:


    The industry claims their operations are safe, "[b]ut a string of documented cases of gas escaping into drinking water -- not just in Pennsylvania but across North America -- is raising new concerns about the hidden costs of this economic tide and strengthening arguments across the country that drilling can put drinking water at risk," reports ProPublica, an independent journalism organization.

    Secret Fracking Fluid Formula Obscures the Risk

    The industry has long claimed that the exact composition of the solvents injected into the ground to extract gas is a matter of trade secret. In order to study whether fracking fluid is contaminating well water, the EPA was forced to subpoena the ingredient lists from companies so they'd know what chemicals to test for.

    In 2010, two companies admitted to a committee before the U.S. Congress that diesel fuel is among the ingredients in their fluids A report to Congress in April 2011 revealed more than 750 chemicals are involved, including several that Berkey Filters can remove below detectable levels.

  • New Jersey On Track To Be First State to Ban Fracking

    This Wednesday, June 29th, the NJ state legislator passed a bill that would ban fracking across the state. While many states and citizens have been fighting this gas drilling practice for some years now, NJ is on track to be the first state that would ban it outright.

    new-jersey

    Senator Bob Gordon says it best “Today, New Jersey sent a strong message to surrounding states and to the nation that a ban on fracking is necessary to protect public health and preserve our natural resources. Any benefits of gas production simply do not justify the many potential dangers associated with fracking such as pollution of our lakes, streams and drinking water supplies and the release of airborne pollutants. We should not wait until our natural resources are threatened or destroyed to act. The time to ban fracking in New Jersey is now.”

    Opponents to fracking are heralding this as a tide turning move that will hopefully accelerate a clamp down on an industry that has been putting natural gas profits first and environmental impacts second. This is assuming NJ governer Chris Christie signs the bill into law, which is where it now lies.

    Mind you, the energy companies are still yet to be required to disclose the chemicals contained in the fracking fluid they use for drilling. They claim it as a trade secret and thus are protected from providing any details. And let's not forget the small issue about these energy companies being exempt from seven major federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act.  As they say, one step at a time, and this is shaping up to be one powerful step for controlling the practice of fracking and thus protecting our waterways and environment from the pollution that this practice causes.


  • The Fracking Debate Heats Up On The Colbert Report

    As the fracking debate continues to heat up, we are seeing each side ramp up lobbying for public support. Supporting fracking, on June 9th, 2011 Tom Ridge was on the Colbert Report in an obvious PR move to calm the recent groundswell of bad press. If you're knowledgeable about the matter of fracking, you'll be surprised by some of Tom's very matter of fact statements implying that the whole concern of fracking is no more dangerous than the boogie man. In response to one of Steve Colbert's questions regarding methane gas getting into homeowners tap water he replies, "it is just naturally occurring, and occurs all over the country". Someone should remind Mr. Ridge that it's only been a little over a month since the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the Chesapeake energy company for contaminating wells,... in the state the Tom Ridge was once governor of. Steve Colbert raises some good questions, but you can't help but think while watching that Tom Ridge is either just missing the points, or purposefully ignoring them. Interview below.

    On the other side of the issue we have an activist organization by the name of foodandwaterwatch.org. Besides trying to make the population more aware of the dangers of fracking, they support regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act. A video recently released by them can be found below:

    We've stated time and again that a energy policy shift for the globe is more than apparent. However, any energy policy that puts our environment at risk and places profits above regulation cannot be supported. We've made this mistake too many times. The dangers of fracking are numerous and need to be placed on hold if companies cannot be ethically and environmentally responsible in their pursuit or natural gas extraction.

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