The recent boom in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, to extract natural gas, has led to low natural gas prices, which is a good thing, supposedly, for the economy, but it seems like we’re going to have to pay for those low prices in other ways.
Fracking, in principal, is easily explained. A well is drilled into natural-gas bearing rock strata, after which liquid and sandy particles are injected into the well. The liquids and particles penetrate into the rock, fracturing it under hydraulic pressure, hence the name. The particles remain in the cracks, keeping them open so that natural gas can bubble out and be captured at the wellhead. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Aside from questions raised regarding uncaptured natural gas emissions, or even the link to increased seismic activity, big questions have been raised regarding the wastewater from natural gas fracking projects. Basically, do fracking companies even know what they’re putting into the ground? When they pull it out, do they even know what to do with it? According to some recent information gathered by Duke University researchers, the answer has to be, “No.”
Pennsylvania has seen a recent boom in natural gas fracking activity and, with it, increased water pollution. Extraction, containment, and disposal of wastewater from fracking is a huge challenge that, apparently, the fracking companies aren’t prepared to meet. Instead, the current solution is to process the wastewater at a treatment facility and then dilute the rest of it in local streams. The wastewater treatment plants need to do better.
Duke University researchers took water samples from both upstream and downstream of the fracking wastewater treatment plants and found some disturbing contaminants. Treatment plants are able to remove about 90% of the radioactive barium and radium, but levels in the wastewater stream, even after processing, are still “200 times greater than upstream and background sediments and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation,” according to a report recently published in Environmental Science & Technology.