Increasing Levels of Fracking Increase Risk to Communities, Threaten Wastewater Resources and Human Health
Not only is hydraulic fracturing leading to depletion in water levels, but U.S. scientists and environmentalists are worried whether the contaminated drilling fluid could prove threatening to water as a resource and human health.
DURHAM, N.C., June 19, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ — Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania are probably places where ‘fracking’ is rampant. It is a well-known fact that agriculture consumes most of the water in western states. Fracking is the new ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. According to Monika Freyman, senior manager of Ceres’s water program – fracking is the latest party to come to the table.
Last year, Downstream Strategies, an environmental consulting firm tried to track fracking water at several wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Though they couldn’t find out the percentage of contamination, it was recorded that gas companies use up 2.8 million to 4.3 million gallons of clean water in the process of fracking a single well in Pennsylvania, and more than half of it is treated and discharged into rivers or streams.
In Colorado, both Garfield County and Weld County are the two places that are very water-stressed. However, 89% of water that is used for fracking is concentrated in just these two counties, totaling to 1.9 billion gallons and 1.3 billion gallons in 2012 respectively.
In the Texas area, several counties which experienced intensive fracking operations have declared water emergencies, according to a Ceres report.
It is quite evident from the reports that water-stressed counties with expanding fracking are presenting some unique and heavy challenges for the counties, their people and the companies engaged in fracking. Also, the vast amount of water used to extract shale gas and the wastewater thus produced is a cause of increased concern among toxicologists, geochemists and biologists.
“I am concerned more about wastewater management – handling and storing it and driving across the countryside with it”, exclaimed Monika. She later explained that the initial worries of contamination from fracking included leaks of drilled fluids as well as other contaminants which have been reduced due to the reinforced wall casings. However, the real danger, she says, comes from wastewater, ‘there are so many different pathways wastewater can go.’ The residual wastewater from fracking is a brine solution containing naturally occurring radionuclides, including radium isotopes. State environmental agencies have started to establish ways to monitor the level of radium in wastewater.
A recent study at Duke University concluded that some of the Marcellus Shale wastewater flows from Pittsburg to other cities and it was found tainted by high levels of radioactivity. The amount of fresh water used by these industries is also a pressing concern. According to the Downstream Strategies Report, 80% of water that is used for hydraulic fracturing purposes in the West Virginia area is pulled directly from rivers and streams. The report said that 92% of water and drilling fluids remained deep underground ‘removed completely from the hydraulic circle’.
According to industry officials, almost 90% of fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania is either reused or treated before being released. However, there has not been any concrete industry solution that covers the overall flowback in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Freyman, however maintains that municipalities will begin legislating to keep fracking at a safe distance from water supplies and population centers. “More needs to be discussed and transparency needs to be created before our society decides about the tradeoffs and mitigation of risks”, she said.
Dr. Barry Stevens, the Founder and President of TBD America, Inc. a Technology Business Development consulting group serving the public and private sectors in the energy, talked about the challenges and opportunities that wastewater reuse present in hydraulic fracturing process in a webinar conducted on June 3, 2014 where he presented various issues regarding hydro-fracturing, water management, water pathway etc
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