A Scary Thought
Pennsylvania’s municipal water treatment plants were designed to handle the bio solids of sewage, not the radioactive compounds contained in shale gas drilling waste. They can’t handle the massive volumes of frack flowback produced in our state.
It takes 4.5 to 9 million gallons of fresh water to hydro-frack a single natural gas well. There are more than 30,000 permits awaiting approval in Pennsylvania over the next 10 years. In addition to the 8,982 frack wells currently operating in Pennsylvania, that equals 165 billion gallons of fresh water, largely from the Special Protection Waters of the Delaware River Watershed and the Susquehanna River Basin.
Once removed, this water is destined to become toxic, radioactive, frack “flowback.” And, by the way, that’s way more water than we actually have.
At first blush, recycling frack flowback – both onsite and at regional treatment plants – seems like the perfect solution. There’s now a long list of companies who want to sell or lease their services to drillers, along with their glorified mobile distillation units. But this, too, poses new problems and raises even more questions about shale gas waste regulation and oversight. Ultimately, waste recyclers still have to deal with the disposal of the super salty waste bi-product known as brine.
So now, recycled frack brine is to be sold - at around $.05 a gallon - to PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) to spray on our roads for deicing in winter, and something called “dust suppression.”
Seriously, dust suppression.
Untreated frack brine has been shown to include barium, radium, strontium and a range of radionuclides. Sometimes, there's even uranium. (Yes, there’s uranium down there, too.) Flowback may also contain sodium and calcium salts, iron, oil, numerous heavy metals, diesel fuel and industrial soaps. And now this stuff might be on my running shoes, and the wheels of my kids’ bikes. Heavy snows and spring rains will carry these compounds into our rivers and streams, lacing our waterways with toxins. Are you kidding me?
How is it, though they're using taxpayer dollars to buy this supposedly "clean" brine, that there was no public input?
Because DEP stamped a permit.
According to Don Hopey in PennFuture Accuses DEP of Permit Dishonesty in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 5, 2012, PennFuture has filed a formal permit appeal with the PA Environmental Hearing Board, “seeking to invalidate the permit and to protect the public’s right to be heard before a permit of such public importance is issued.”
In the appeal, Hopey reports, PennFuture argues that “The treatment byproducts -- crystallized sodium chloride and liquid calcium chloride -- could have ‘potentially widespread impacts on public health and the environment... because the chemical salts are allowed by the permit to contain limited amounts of arsenic, lead, mercury, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and diesel hydrocarbons’.”
DEP Pulled A “Switcheroo”
In an email blast by PennFuture, “DEP’s public notice of the permit application, however, described it as seeking approval for a wastewater treatment process, not for spreading wastes generated by that process... Contrary to what DEP is saying, PennFuture is not attacking the practice of recycling wastewater. As our appeal makes crystal clear, we are challenging DEP’s violation of its own public participation regulations.”
Obtaining public input before approving this permit would have been due course.
It appears, at the state level, Pennsylvania’s Plan B is to use 165 billion gallons of Special Protection Waters to pump a frightful array of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and other pollutants, plus loads of sand, deep down into the bedrock; and when it blasts back up at extremely high pressure, they're gonna capture it, store it, dispose of and process 100% of it with infallible machines from companies like Seimans, Aquatech, AquaPure and Rolco.
We'll simply spray whatever's left on the roads, potentially releasing toxins into our watershed.
Given a choice on the matter, I’d say, “No.”
The Ghosts of Frack Waste Past
Frack flowback re-use accounts for about 20-30% of the total waste currently produced in the state. Out of 680 million gallons of frack waste produced in 2010, 320 million gallons were reportedly recycled, while 260 million gallons were sent to area water treatment plants, like the Eureka facility in Williamsport PA.
The rest, a highly toxic and radioactive sludge, was either transported by fleets of tanker trucks out of state, or injected back into the ground into Pennsylvania’s handful of injection wells, which are underground toxic waste reservoirs. This is the practice which is reported to have caused recent earthquakes the UK, Texas and Ohio.
In 2010, at least 50 million additional gallons of frack flowback went unaccounted for in Pennsylvania, according to DEP records.
In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of [gas] well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb. Those liquids were then discharged through the town sewage plant into the Neshaminy Creek in Chalfont, which winds through Bucks and Montgomery counties on its way to the Delaware River. [SOURCE: Associated Press, January 4, 2011]
Over a nine month period spanning 2009-2010, Cabot Oil & Gas was caught illegally discharging tens of thousands of gallons of waste into the Nockamixon Creek. Residents in Haddon Township, NJ were exposed to a massive illegal, partially treated frack water discharge in their drinking water system, and while authorities initially told residents that everything was fine, they were later informed that the release of frack brine was worse than officials had initially determined.
Indeed, these incidents precipitated the call for the gas industry to end their insane disposal habits and develop a Plan B. Nevertheless, Philadelphia Water Department Chairperson, Chris Crockett, took a passive syance, stating in Philadelphia Water Department Taking Measured Approach To Fracking by Andrew Maykuth in September, 2010, Philly.com, "We want to take a constructive, scientific approach, not polarize people."
Environmental groups were outspoken in their criticism at the time.
" 'I find it sort of disappointing that the Water Department is not taking a more proactive first-do-no-harm approach,' said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, the statewide advocacy group."
" 'I think the Philadelphia Water Department needs to be more assertive, like New York City," said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental advocacy group." [Source: Philly.com]
Two years later, much like PennFuture, these groups remain dissatisfied.