Natural Gas Drilling Method 'Fracking' is Contaminating American Drinking Water
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses pressure blasts to release natural gas but leaves highly toxic waste water. A controversial new method of natural-gas drilling, embraced rapidly across the US, has contaminated water supplies with radioactive waste, according to an investigation by the New York Times.
The paper said internal documents from the Environmental Protection
Agency and state regulators showed that the dangers to the public from
the drilling method – hydraulic fracturing – were greater than
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses huge volumes of water, chemicals and sand injected into rock at high pressure to release natural gas. Its development has unleashed a natural gas boom in the US and around the world.
The NYT said the waste water contained dangerously high
levels of radioactivity. It was being sent to treatment plants that were
not designed to deal with or being discharged into rivers that supply
The NYT said its main findings included:
• More than 1.3 billion gallons of waste water was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water – enough to cover Manhattan in three inches – was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.
• At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry waste water and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.
• Of more than 179 wells producing waste water with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced waste water carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.
The investigation comes amid growing concern about the potential dangers of natural gas drilling as it spreads from western states to the more densely populated north-east.
The investigative website ProPublica has
published an extensive series on the threats to water supplies from
hydraulic fracturing. It has also raised doubts about whether natural
gas can indeed offer a solution to climate change, noting that the
mining process is extremely energy and water intensive.
The dangers of natural gas drilling were also the subject of a gritty documentary, Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film's director , Josh Fox, told the Guardian: "All these things are starting to add up in a very clear picture of a massive failure to protect public health."
February 28, 2011 - GuardianUK