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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Study: Treated fracking wastewater could still threaten drinking water

Researchers from Duke University and Stanford University have found that if treated wastewater from unconventional oil and gas operations is discharged into rivers and streams that are used downstream as public drinking supplies, the chlorination of that water for drinking purposes can create carcinogenic chemicals in drinking water.

Their study, Enhanced Formation of Disinfection Byproducts in Shale Gas Wastewater-Impacted Drinking Water Supplies was published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.  As State Impact Pennsylvania reports: 
The research confirms what scientists have been warning about for some time. The high concentrations of salty brine, which flows up from deep underground once a well is fracked, are difficult to remove from the wastewater without the aid of an expensive technique called reverse osmosis or a cheaper method known as thermal distillation. If the wastewater is treated conventionally, which does not remove the bromides, chlorides or iodides, then it can be combined with chlorine at a drinking water facility, and create carcinogens such as bromines and iodines… 
What they found was that just .01 percent per volume of fracking wastewater, when combined with the disinfectant chlorine used by drinking water facilities, created trihalomethanes. The EPA limits the amount of these compounds in drinking water because of their link to kidney, liver and bladder cancer…
In 2011 the Department of Environmental Protection asked Marcellus Shale drillers to voluntarily stop sending their wastewater to conventional treatment facilities. The industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition pledged to stop. It’s unclear whether or not all of them are still complying with that request. The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to our questions...(E)ven if all of the Marcellus Shale drillers have stopped using these facilities, wastewater from the smaller, conventional drillers could still have the same impact. 
The "regulatory" history here is pertinent for 3 reasons. First, and obviously, requests and promises are not nearly good enough. This issue demands strong regulation, careful monitoring, and strict enforcement. 

Second, it's amazing - and disturbing - that no one has apparently bothered to verify or track the results of the meager request and resulting promises that were made 3 years ago.

Third, unconventional and conventional drillers alike must be held to a much tougher standard.  And that may be difficult. Because as State Impact Pennsylvania has also reported:
During July budget negotiations, state Republican leaders slipped controversial language into the fiscal code that requires state regulators to differentiate between “conventional” or shallow wells and modern, deep shale wells. 
Will the prospect of toxic municipal drinking water change anything?

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