Where does fracking water go?
Fracking — the extraction of natural gas from underground deposits of shale — is receiving an increasing amount of attention. The 2010 documentary Gasland brought the issue into the national spotlight and highlighted the problem of contaminated groundwater that can occur when a well casing ruptures and fracking fluids escape into the water table. In addition, there is the issue of used fracking liquids being injected into spent wells for permanent disposal. Of course, the fracking industry and environmentalists have a lot of disagreement about the extent to which these fluids contaminate groundwater.
There is another, less discussed, problem of used fracking fluids that are moved offsite for processing and disposal. Where are these fluids going and who is regulating them? The community of Kingston, NY (near where I live) decided they didn’t want to accept these fracking fluids for processing. From the Daily Freeman:
The city engineer says no spent hydrofracking fluid will be coming to the sewage treatment plant even though the state Department of Environmental Conservation lists the plant as a capable of handling the fluid.
“Technically we could accept it, but we’ve decided not to,” City Engineer Ralph Swenson said last week, only days after Woodstock residents voiced concern that treated water would end up being discharged into the Rondout Creek and flow into the Hudson River.
“We need to maintain the capacity for our own use and it’s not worth getting involved with this material,” Swenson said. “We’re not even thinking about it.”
Officials in 2009 turned down a inquiry about processing fracking fluid because the city’s plant was already averaging 88.23 percent of its 6.8 million-gallon daily capacity and because of the difficulties in providing treatment.
“It was Chesapeake Energy and we declined because of the strength of the liquid and volume-wise it wouldn’t make any sense for us to get involved with it,” Swenson said.
Other municipal water-treatment plants have been accepting the used fracking liquids, including the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which has filed plans for expansion even though it’s facing lawsuits and inquiries from the EPA about its fracking fluid treatment. The facility discharges into the Monongahela River and says that a private company, Green Disposal, pays the Authority about $1.6 million per year for fracking fluid disposal. It’s easy to see how lucrative this business could be.
Disposal of fracking fluids is an important issue that has inconsistent supervision. Until federal standards come into effect in 2014, citizen oversight will be critical. I was thrilled to see this project tracking political donations from firms involved in fracking. In our rush to develop more domestic energy sources we must protect the environment. Nothing is more valuable than clean water. It ranks above cheap energy in importance.
Map above courtesy of Earth Justice (click through to original which has many layers of detail including on the small symbols that denote fracking accidents)