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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.    

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is getting back to nature the key to saving human civilization?

A study published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society (UK) finds that "nature exposure reduces future discounting." 

Do natural landscapes reduce future discounting in humans? finds:
An important barrier to enduring behavioural change is the human tendency to discount the future...(T)his study investigates whether exposure to natural versus urban landscapes affects people's temporal discount rates. The results of three studies...reveal that individual discount rates are systematically lower after people have been exposed to scenes of natural environments as opposed to urban environments. Further, this effect is owing to people placing more value on the future after nature exposure. The finding that nature exposure reduces future discounting—as opposed to exposure to urban environments—conveys important implications for a range of personal and collective outcomes including healthy lifestyles, sustainable resource use and population growth.
Step away from the computer. Go outside. Find a state park or forest, or a national park. If you have kids, take them. Our future depends on it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gas industry choking on its own waste, part 2

Almost a year ago, I blogged about a study that suggested that the volume of wastewater being generated from hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania and Ohio could overwhelm Ohio's disposal capacity.  

Now, with the gas industry seeking to lower its mounting disposal costs, fears are being expressed in The Buckeye State and elsewhere as the U.S. Coast Guard considers approving the transport of fracking wastewater by barge

The risks and public angst about unconventional gas development continue to mount. 

When will the business case for squeezing the water out of fracking take hold?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Troubling study: fracking in PA increases infant health risks - Updated

The impact of hydraulic fracturing on public health continues to be a source of controversy, public angst, and growing local, regional, and national efforts to ban the practice. Now, Bloomberg is reporting on a newly-released study that echoes the results of a previous Pennsylvania studyThe Effects of Fracking on Welfare: Evidence from Property Values has found that proximity to hydraulic fracturing operations significantly increases risk to the health of infants: 
In a study presented…at the annual meeting of the AmericanEconomic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers -- Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent. 
The report notes that the study has not yet been peer-reviewed. That cannot be done soon enough, as the results are profoundly troubling.

The report says that water contamination does not appear to be responsible for the increased risk - that it is perhaps due to fracking-related air pollution. This would include the air pollution that results from frackwater storage in open containments – a practice that is totally unacceptable but allowed in Pennsylvania. The chemicals from these containments volatilize and give rise to local air pollution and the nosebleeds, headaches, rashes, and other illnesses that are disturbingly reported from the gas fields.

As I wrote here, the localized impacts from natural gas development are avoidable. The path to minimizing them is straightforward. Mandatory use of best available control technology (BACT) on all gas-related equipment is an absolute must. Open impoundments for storing drill cuttings and drilling waste, and for all drilling-related wastewater, should be outlawed, and closed-loop, closed container systems must be required, now. Ultimately, industry and regulation must drive toward waterless, chemical-free fracking methods.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court recently gave the Commonwealth a chance to pause, reflect, and chart a smarter course on shale gas development. The response to the Court’s decision from state government was pathetically in-character.  The industry and Pennsylvania officials ignore the Court – and studies like these - at their peril. 

And ours.

January 7, 2014 updates: One of the authors of the study says that the Bloomberg headline was premature.

See also this informative selection of blog posts by The New York Times' Andy Revkin on peer-review.