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Thursday, October 3, 2013

PA stream below oil/gas wastewater treatment plant shows elevated levels of salts, metals, radioactivity

A new study of a western Pennsylvania creek shows that disposing of treated wastewater from years of conventional and - more recently, unconventional - oil and gas development has resulted in elevated levels of salts, metals like barium, and dangerous levels of naturally occurring radioactivity.

The study of Blacklick Creek, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that creek sediment contained radium in concentrations 200 times above normal, background levels.  Those elevated levels are so high that they “would only be accepted at a licensed radioactive disposal facility.”  This is despite the fact that, according to the study, treatment reduced barium and radium levels by more than ninety percent compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. The study also found elevated levels of salts such as bromide.

The impacts described came from a plant that, according to published reports, stopped treating wastewater from oil and gas drilling two and a half years ago.  But that’s like the blink of an eye – the radioactivity could persist for literally thousands of years. The study authors noted that the radium contamination could accumulate in plants and animals and be transferred through the food chain to humans

Pennsylvania cannot afford to allow yet another legacy of environmental degradation from energy extraction The study vividly illustrates the risks of treating and disposing of the surging volumes of waste from hydraulic fracturing.  It points to the need for a review of current federal and state regulations, for the development of much stronger protections, and for constant, ubiquitous monitoring of water quality.  It also illustrates the need for a serious drive toward eliminating the use of water in unconventional oil and gas development.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

CCS network planned in UK

In May, I blogged about a U.K. government taskforce’s finding that the development of CCS networks is essential to making the technology a viable tool in the battle against the existential threat of global climate disruption.  I’ve written several times about the first CCS network that was ever proposed – in Pennsylvania, four years ago. Now, a regional CCS network is being planned northern England.

The UK’s National Grid is planning a pipeline project to transport CO2 that will be captured from power and industrial plants in the Yorkshire and Humber region and store it offshore beneath the North Sea.

According to the project website, power plants and industrial facilities in the Yorkshire and Humber region emit 60 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 annually.  The network is intended to capture and store up to 17 MMT of COevery year.  The CO2 will be transported in liquid form (under pressure) through a main 47-mile long, 2-foot diameter cross-country pipeline buried about 4 feet underground, and a sub-sea pipeline. The technology for the system is the same type used in the high-pressure gas pipeline network already being operated across the UK by National Grid.

Could the development of this project be the breakthrough that CCS needs?  Can such CCS networks be developed here? Clearly, yes – especially with the potential for improving network economics with enhanced oil and gas recovery, and perhaps other industrial uses for CO2.