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Friday, January 10, 2014

Study: AMD can remove NORM from fracking wastewater, but...

A Duke University-led study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has found that "much" of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with acid mine drainage (AMD).

Radium and Barium Removal through Blending HydraulicFracturing Fluids with Acid Mine Drainage found that blending Marcellus Shale fracking wastewater and AMD caused sulfate, iron, barium and strontium, and "between 60 and 100 percent" of the radium" to precipitate into solids.  Those resulting radioactive solids could be removed from the mixtures for safe disposal. And the reduced salinity of the blended fluids made the treated water suitable for re-use at fracking sites.

The process must now be tested at field-scale to confirm the results.

Twin beneficial reuses of AMD - using it to replace some - but not nearly all - fresh water for hydraulic fracturing in some areas of Pennsylvania, and to remove naturally-occurring radioactive material (NORM) from fracking wastewater - would be good things. But as I wrote here when the use of AMD for fracking was first proposed, it's important not to overstate the benefits. Pennsylvania has at least 4000 miles of biologically “dead” streams from AMD pollution - pollution that must be treated in perpetuity. Forever. Using AMD for fracking does not actually clean anything up. Diverting a smallish (in the overall scheme of things) amount of polluted water for fracking is far different than cleaning up a massive, pervasive and unending statewide problem. 

Using AMD for fracking is a good thing. But it treats a symptom. It is not a cure. It avoids basic questions of statewide water quality and consumptive use of the Keystone State's precious water resources.    

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