It was revealed today by the AP that the state of Pennsylvania is allowing “wastewater so salty, and so polluted with metals like barium and strontium” to be flushed into local waterways. This wastewater is a result of natural gas extraction method called “fracking” which has been a sore spot with the affected community.
The protests against gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale area of Pennsylvania have increased in size since the movie Gasland was released, which brought great awareness to the environmental damage caused by this method.
Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand deep into the rock, shattering the shale and releasing the gas trapped inside. When the gas comes to the surface, some of the water comes back, too, along with underground brine that exists naturally.
It can be several times saltier than sea water and tainted with fracking chemicals, some of which can be carcinogenic if swallowed at high enough levels over time.
The water is also often laden with barium, which is found in underground ore deposits and can cause high blood pressure, and radium, a naturally occurring radioactive substance.
Pennsylvania reportedly allows the waste liquid that gushes from gas wells to be only partially treated for environmentally harmful substances. Then, companies like Atlas Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas are legally able to dump their spoils into the local rivers that provide drinking water to nearby communities.
These companies claim that they are playing by the rules, however weak they may be. Yet, AP’s own investigation turned up some stirring inconsistencies:
- ‘Of the roughly 6 million barrels of well liquids produced in a 12-month period examined by The AP, the state couldn’t account for the disposal method for 1.28 million barrels, about a fifth of the total, because of a weakness in its reporting system and incomplete filings by some energy companies.
- Some public water utilities that sit downstream from big gas wastewater treatment plants have struggled to stay under the federal maximum for contaminants known as trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer if swallowed over a long period.
- Regulations that should have kept drilling wastewater out of the important Delaware River Basin, the water supply for 15 million people in four states, were circumvented for many months.’