Tag Archives: Environmental health

Lab study cuts fracking waste’s radioactivity | The Sanford Herald

See this story linked below from the Associated Press by way of the Sanford Herald.

Lab study cuts fracking waste’s radioactivity | The Sanford Herald.

This is a curious find: flowback water mixed with “acid drainage from mining, or any other salty water” precipitates a good chunk of the radioactive material out of the water, thus binding it into a solid, more easily disposable form. I am not sure, in terms of isolating and removing radioactive materials, how much this differs from a standing practice of allowing the flowback water to sit in an open pit at the drill site and evaporate so the nasty material will be left behind.

What is encouraging is to see that after mixing the fluids, the research found that radioactive material was bound in solids, and the salinity of the water had diminished enough that it could be used again in fracking. That process saves some water supply while isolating materials to be handled as hazardous waste. Note that this is something that will be helpful in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but not necessarily here in North Carolina since we do not have acid drainage from mining. {Ironically, it’s that acid wash that spilled in West Virginia causing 7 counties to be without public water supply, so this is still a nasty operation within a nasty operation.}

Also of note, since it was discussed today at the MEC meeting, the radioactivity of the disolved water in the flowback still has protection of the classified chemicals clause. We still don’t know what all is in the cocktail used in the slickwater fracturing process, but based on the discussion I heard in the meeting today (I was able to tune in to the middle portion, but not all of it: I would welcome more details on the meeting from those who were there or listened to the entire thing), the drilling operators would have to list on their permit request the chemicals to be used, and the state regulators would then acknowledge which are on the classified list. Regulators, as I understand it, would have to permit the site with appropriate chemical and wastewater storage, treatment, disposal, and spill response plan.

I am glad to see someone else in this article echo my feeling on the critical need for proper wastewater handling:

Tad Patzek, chairman and professor of the petroleum engineering
department at the University of Texas in Austin, cautioned that the
method could present problems in the field. The remaining water would
still be jam-packed with chemicals and toxins, he noted.

“That water can get spilled,” Patzek said. “That water can get into a shallow aquifer. There are many other considerations.”

The danger classification sign of radioactive ...


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“Fracking wastewater contaminated – likely with radioactive material”

A study in Pennsylvania conducted by Duke was released earlier this week that revealed sediment downstream from wastewater treatment facilities where fracking wastewater had been processed contained radioactive material in 200 times greater concentration than the streambed above the facility. These radioactive contaminants have the chemical signature of the Marcellus Shale. The study has been publicized in numerous media outlets, but here’s the story as it appears in the Christian Science Monitor and from NBC News.

This is not a major surprise. Many geologists have noted that radioactive material lay in these shale beds, and flushing the formations with the fracking fluid would likely bring these contaminants out in solution. I recall a talk from Tony Ingraffea in which he put it: “the fracking process brings to the surface a bunch of stuff we should be happy are locked up and buried down there.”

Now, once again, realize this is not documenting that hydraulic fracturing is contaminating groundwater; no, it is the “produced” water, or wastewater from the fracked well, that is contaminated. Remember the study from University of Texas that concluded there were no links to fracking and water contamination (though the study is actually being redone since it was funded in large part by the inudstry)? Go back to my post from February 16, 2012 and see what I highlighted from that report: it’s the activity associated with fracking – the above ground handling of materials and waste that cause contamination. But fracking cannot be done without without producing waste at the surface.

Personally, I am weary of what elements are bound in our Triassic Basins that would come to the surface when fracked. I understand about the need to extract minerals from the earth for beneficial uses, but what sets fracking apart is the treatment of the flow back and produced water. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to treat this waste. Add to that something I have said before:  the set up of remote industrial sites that are fracking wells makes full wastewater treatment more difficult.


Gasland: what the documentary shows us, part 3

The last item that Josh Fox’s documentary reveals that I wish to highlight (there are several more that other outlets have picked up on already) is the one that is not mentioned specifically: the problem of the endocrine disruptor. His interview with Dr. Theo goes into what the effects of endocrine disruptors are, which are primarily neurological. If you have not heard of endocrine disruptors, here’s the description from our favorite source on the web for such unknowns, wikipedia. The subject is addressed by NIEHS as well.


Josh captured reports from individuals experiencing these very symptoms, and tragically filmed animals experiencing these symptoms rather strikingly. The reason I highlight this issue here is because we have no treatment for endocrine disruptors. It seems that people and animals had exposure from endocrine disruptors that traveled by air. Again, the dispersed nature of this kind of gas development poses an extra challenge for protecting environmental health, in the air, soil, and water. Admittedly, endocrine disruptors are not unique to gas exploration at all. I bring it up here as something of a public service announcement.

The one critique I have of Gasland is that he does not talk about the benefits of natural gas, and of the lease holders. I know he mentions the adds run by Chespeake and what not about this being a ‘game changer’ and of course starts the movie by describing the generous offer he received in the mail. The reason it is important to note the incentive is that there are a lot of landowners out there, a lot of farmers whose business is struggling, home owners scraping by, who have a justified reason to exercise their mineral rights: they can plain and simply use the financial boost. Second to that is the fact that our way of life here calls for this steady supply of cheap energy, and this is a resource that we can and will use. Once we acknowledge these facts, I believe we can have a better discussion about how to extract those resources responsibly to provide all stakeholders better economic stability.




GasLand (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)


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Federal level oversight and research picking up

The Secretary of the Interior was in Ohio visiting a small manufacturing facility that is benefiting from the hydraulic fracturing wave, and spoke a bit about the valuable source of energy natural gas is, along with the need to extract it safely and responsibly.

Secretary of Interior Speaks On Energy, Fracking.

This visit corresponds with talk of BLM and EPA requiring full disclosure of the fracturing cocktail that is used, at least that which will be used on production wells located on public lands.

“To me, those rules are common sense,” Salazar was quoted by the Platts news service as saying during a speech in Ohio. “And if we do not move forward with that kind of program from the Department of Interior, my own view is that the failure of disclosure and the failure of giving the American people confidence that hydraulic fracturing will in fact work will end up being the Achilles heel of the energy promise of America.”

We’ve discussed transparency issues before. The extra good news this morning is seeing that Obama’s federal budget proposal includes a good amount of funds for research (I don’t know if it’s sufficient, but it seems like it is a significant amount). EPA has $14 million dedicated to research specifically in regard to hydraulic fracturing in the proposal. The EPA portion is part of a three-agency research effort that will examine impacts of hydraulic fracturing beyond water as the USGS and Department of Energy will also conduct research. The total amount proposed for the three agencies research effort is $45 million. Whether these initiatives will actually be funded in the final budget remains to be seen, but it’s a promising start (and keep in mind: $45 million may sound like a lot to you and me, but in terms of the federal budget, it is miniscule). The administration notes that there is an on-going research and development program in the DOE that may be diverted to fund impacts on public and environmental health – and hopefully include research on socio-economic impacts, too.
“Absent congressional action to repeal, the administration seeks to refocus its 2012 activities to support research and development with significant potential public benefits,” White House budget officials wrote, saying such efforts would be consistent with the administration panel, which made recommendations to “minimize the potential risks and improve the environmental, health, and safety performance of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas development.”

20 recommended regulatory improvements – and more.

Mark Zoback is a geophysicist at Sanford and is one of the advisors on the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. The board published a report in November describing implementation strategies for 20 recommendations for regulatory improvements governing hydraulilc fracturing. The online outlet ‘ScienceDaily‘ has a good interview with Zoback (link provided below) putting the board’s recommendations and the mention of natural gas in the State of the Union.

More environmental rules needed for shale gas, says geophysicist.

There are numerous accounts of industry and natural gas extraction supporters in Congress that express the greater ability of states to regulate hydraulic fracturing rather than have federal regulations. The recommendations of the advisory board include both state and federal level implementation strategies, and also for some combination of the two. Given the numerous reports from industry representatives, such as from API during the NCLM forum in December, that the industry is regulated, it is curious to see news headlines like this:

“Ohio attorney general seeks tougher fracking laws”

Add to that, Democrats in the House Natural Resource Committee made notice that the number of violations reported related to hydraulic drilling activity on public lands in the last decade accumulated to $300,000 in fines. Not only were the fines too small to influence improved practices, but they cited inconsistent enforcement as well.

Meanwhile, environmental health scientists are scrambling to assess the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Charles Schmidt, a science writer, describes the range of issues related to hydraulic fracturing, especially where it is done in urban settings, that require more health-related research to understand the effects of all aspects of fracking. He cites the regulatory statue for the Clean Air Act actually does not apply to fracking sites since individually, each site does not produce enough emissions to report to state agencies any emissions. The dispersed arrangement of drilling operations simply present a physical challenge to regulate their cumulative effect. The National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science hosted a couple of talks in December to call attention to research on health effects to the workforce and to the surrounding communities, but the director admits that…

…we need to do our best to get ahead of the curve, so we can more fully understand any potential health impacts related to the development of this resource.

Several presenters during the Duke forum last month mentioned that better and honest communication is needed from industry to gain greater understanding on the extent of risks. Add two more geoscientists to that list expressing the need for more clear and more thorough communication from the gas industry on the processes they use for hydraulic fracturing. They go on to reiterate that the natural gas is a valuable resource and is needed for our overall energy demand, but the extraction of this resource must be done correctly.


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