The primary waste product created by oil and gas drilling contains two types of potentially hazardous contaminants that have never before been associated with the industry, research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology on Wednesday revealed.
Duke University geochemistry professor Avner Vengosh and his team of scientists found that wastewater produced by both conventional and unconventional oil drillers contains high volumes of ammonium and iodide — chemicals that, when dissolved in water or mixed with other pollutants, can encourage the formation of toxins like carcinogenic disinfection byproducts and have negative impacts on aquatic life.
That’s a problem, the study said, because oil and gas industry wastewater is often discharged or spilled into streams and rivers that eventually flow into drinking water systems.
“We were not aware that they existed in oil and gas waste products,” Vengosh told ThinkProgress on Wednesday. “Until now, no one was aware — no one was monitoring for those contaminants.”
Both conventional and unconventional oil and gas development produce wastewater, which contains pollutants that can harm human health. The unconventional process of hydraulic fracturing, however, produces much more wastewater than its conventional counterpart (the process involves injecting thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack shale rock). Nationwide, fracking produces an estimated 280 billion gallons of wastewater per year, according to an Environment America report.
How to dispose of that polluted water has been an issue. Some gets stored in artificial ponds, some is injected underground, and some is treated and put back into rivers. None are foolproof systems — untreated fracking wastewater has spilled into the environmentmultiple times from both injection wells and ponds, and treated wastewater has been found to be harmful for human consumption.
However it is disposed, Vengosh and his team said that their discovery of two new pollutants shows that the danger posed by fracking wastewater to human health and the environment is becoming more clear.
“The relatively high frequency of spills associated with the intensity of shale gas development and reports of an overall increase of the salinity in watersheds associated with hydraulic fracturing activities, combined with data presented in this study, suggest that the release of [oil and gas wastewater] to the environment is one of the major risks associated with the development of hydraulic fracturing,” the study reads. “Our findings indicate that discharge and accidental spills of [oil and gas wastewater] to waterways pose risks to both human health and the environment.”
Or, in Vengosh’s own words: “The practice that we are allowing wastewater to be discharged in rivers and streams is unacceptable.”
To come to their conclusion, the Duke University team collected and analyzed 44 wastewater samples produced from conventional oil and gas wells in New York and Pennsylvania; 31 wastewater samples from fracked wells in Pennsylvania and Arkansas; and treated wastewater that was being directly discharged into streams, rivers, and surface waters at three disposal sites in Pennsylvania. They also analyzed water at sites where fracking wastewater had spilled in West Virginia.
Their discovery of ammonium and iodide was not the first time potentially harmful contaminants have been found in drilling wastewater. Back in September, Vengosh was part of a team that found halides — which are salts like bromide and chloride — in wastewater. Those too can promote the formation of toxic disinfection byproducts when disinfectants used in water treatment plants react them, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Vengosh doesn’t think the fracking process itself is responsible for ammonium and iodide in the wastewater. He noted that tests from both conventional and unconventional drilling sites contained the chemicals. That led him to believe that they were naturally occurring in the geological system — not originating from the chemicals that fracking companies use to stimulate wells.
But that doesn’t mean fracking should be off the hook for its contribution to harmful wastewater discharges into the environment, Vengosh said.
“We need to change the regulations and stop polluting the waterways in areas of both conventional and unconventional oil and gas exploration,” he said, “but the problem becomes louder [for fracking] because of the increase in the volume of the wastewater.”
Original article on Think Progress
Canada's spy agency collects and stores millions of citizens' emails each year Canada's electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), collects millions of emails and other information from its citizens and stores them for "days to months," according to a document leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and revealed by CBC News in…
Wisconsin lawmakers this week are considering what’s known as a right-to-work bill. It’s a deeply divisive subject in the Badger State: Republicans love it; unions hate it. In some circles, there’s even talk of a general strike, a kind of mass walkout that the U.S. hasn’t seen in almost 70…
Illinois' new GOP Governor, Bruce Rauner, will personally receive a $750,000 per year tax cut as a result of his decision not to continue the state's temporary 1.25% income tax surcharge that expired last year.
House Republicans are laying the groundwork for a revision of the food-stamps program after its sharp expansion during the recession. The effort kicks off Feb. 25 when the House Agriculture Committee holds the first of several hearings scheduled this year on food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The claim that either the old-age or disability trust funds has run dry is 'one of the hoariest lies in the conservatives' playbook.' Republican opposition to a plan that would shore up a critical government safety-net program amounts to a new front in the GOP's class war and could equal…
'We cannot balance the budget on the backs of poor people,' said Rep.Jim McGovern
House Republicans are reportedly renewing efforts to cut the federal food stamp program, increasing restrictions on benefits and who may qualify for them.
Public-sector workers are under fire again — and not just from Republicans. Three years after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker curtailed collective bargaining and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cut pension benefits for public employees in the name of budget austerity, state and local politicians once again are moving to curtail public-sector…
Is this check-mate?
With Gov.-elect Greg Abbott poised to take over the governor’s mansion in the Lone Star State later this month, the Texas legislature will be in prime position to attack and ultimately dismantle one of the state’s most successful pro-immigrant initiatives on the books: the Texas DREAM Act.
Oxfam International's Winnie Byanyima says political leaders will ignore inequality at their own peril. According to the nation's richest people, the poor have it easy. Fifty-four percent of survey respondents categorized as the most financially secure said "poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without…
Proposal put forth by White House would see federal and state governments pay for two years of college for all those able to maintain 2.5 GPA A new proposal unveiled by President Obama would make two years of a community college education "free" for all those who maintain a certain…