Fracking Pollution Much Worse than Reported

Internal Documents Detail Radiation in Water Supply

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 28, 2011

The environmental dangers of hydraulic fracking are much worse than previously reported, according to internal documents from the EPA, state regulators, and drillers.

The New York Times has revealed that fracking wastewater contains high levels of radioactive material — far more than the water treatment plants are able to handle.

This results in radioactive wastewater discharging into rivers.  

In Pennsylvania, for instance, the tainted wastewater was dumped into Monongahela River, which provides much of Pittsburgh with drinking water.

The radioactive wastewater was also dumped into the Susquehanna River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, providing our drinking water here in Baltimore.

Over 100 wells in Pennsylvania reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking water standards.

While exposure to small amounts of radioactivity isn't necessarily dangerous, the bigger concern is that contamination of drinking water could lead to increased cancer risks and other health problems.

The fracking process involves drilling a mile or more below the earth's surface and blasting a pressurized solution of water, sand, and chemicals to fracture the rocks below and release the natural gas.

Drilling companies have maintained the fracking process is safe, and the chemicals used would not do any significant harm to the environment. But the internal documents dispute those facts.

Here are some of The Time's findings:

  • More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.

  • At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.

  • Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.

Industry officials are still denying that the radiation is a health risk.

“These low levels of radioactivity pose no threat to the public or worker safety and are more a public perception issue than a real health threat,” said James E. Grey, COO of Triana Energy told The Times.

I don't know about you, but 1,000 times the acceptable amount of radioactivity seems like a pretty legit health threat to me.

You can read the New York Times piece in its entirety here.

ProPublica has also been doing a great ongoing series on fracking pollution that I'd recommend checking out.

Be Well,