Report: Radioactive fracking waste being dumped into waterways that feed drinking water supplies

Posted in: Fracking, Water Contamination
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Photo Credit: Ralph Wilson/AP

Article courtesy of Brett Michael Dykes | February 28, 2011 | Yahoo News | Shared as educational material

On Sunday, the New York Times published an extensive front-page expose on hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Times reporter Ian Urbina culled his account from thousands of internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents leaked to the paper, together with similar material the Times obtained from state regulators and drillers. The most frightening takeaway: Natural gas companies are dumping radioactive wastewater from fracking into rivers and streams that serve as the main drinking water supply for millions of people — and “dangers to the environment and health” arising from this practice are “greater than previously understood.”

The documents show that EPA scientists are alarmed over research showing that fracking wastewater contains high concentrations of radioactive components — information that hasn’t been previously disclosed publicly. In many instance, Urbina reports, the wastewater is transported to “sewage plants not designed to treat it” — and from there, it’s “then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.”

A never-disclosed EPA study on fracking also found that rivers and streams aren’t able to dilute the radioactive elements of drilling waste that water treatment plants discharge–contrary to claims advanced by some fracking proponents. Urbina also reports that in Pennsylvania, most drinking-water intake plants stopped testing for radioactivity in 2006, just before that state’s natural gas drilling boom commenced. Among the higher-volume dump sites in Pennsylvania are the Monongahela and Delaware rivers, which together provide drinking water for roughly 16 million of the state’s residents. The two rivers also feed into waterways that supply drinking water to other states.

Reports the Times:

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.

Despite the troubling data that’s surfaced in the Times report, the EPA has not intervened to enforce enhanced safety standards to protect public drinking water supplies. Instead, the agency recently commissioned a lengthy study to determine whether fracking poses any risks to public health. The study is projected to be complete in two years.


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