In recent environmental news, a study from Duke University has just been released explaining that river water in Western Pennsylvania has shown increased levels of radioactivity. One of the culprits of the increased radiation is fluids used from a natural gas extraction process known as fracking.
Fracking, which is the process of widening fractures in underground rocks by using an extreme amount of water pressure, is not an uncommon method in Pennsylvania to extract oil and gas. Because fracking requires large quantities of water there is much concern to where the water goes after it is used in fracking, as it is not safe to come in contact with after it has been used. Suzanne Goldenburg of The Guardian explained in a recent article just how much water is used within the industry. She wrote:
It can take 2m to 9m gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to frack a single well. The report said the drilling industry had used 250bn gallons of fresh water since 2005. Much of that returns to the surface, however, along with naturally occurring radium and bromides, and concerns are growing about those effects on the environment.
For citizens of Western Pennsylvania there is much concern because upcoming evidence has shown that there is a high risk that their drinking water could become contaminated. In Duke’s two year study, they observed water discharged into the Blacklick Creek from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, which is in charge of treating water that has been used during fracking. Because this creek feeds into a major water source for Western Pennsylvania, it was concerning to see that levels of radiation in the water from the plant downstream were 200 times above normal levels. Goldenburg also highlighted some major parts of the study and put into simple words as to why the risks of mixing contaminated water from fracking could be a danger to humans.
A study published this week by researchers at Duke University found new evidence of radiation risks from drilling waste water. The researchers said sediment samples collected downstream from a treatment plant in western Pennsylvania showed radium concentrations 200 times above normal.
The Environment America study said waste water pits have been known to fail, such as in New Mexico where there were more than 420 instances of contamination, and that treatment plants were not entirely effective.
“Fracking waste-water discharged at treatment plants can cause a different problem for drinking water: when bromide in the wastewater mixes with chlorine (often used at drinking water treatment plants), it produces trihalomethanes, chemicals that cause cancer and increase the risk of reproductive or developmental health problems,” the report said.
Despite the report many stay hopeful that fracking is the right way to go to provide Pennsylvania with energy. It has been highlighted that fracking companies are now working with waste water plants to ensure they are updated and capable of handling the waste water. For some this is a huge improvement because it will prevent contamination in the future and make them feel safer about their drinking water. However, for others they feel the damage has already been done and radiation has already had it’s toll on communities that live near fracking sites or fracking waste water treatment plants. Those who oppose fracking also argue that even if plants can lower the levels of radiation that threaten drinking water there are still too many risks involved with the industry. Some of these risks include destructive explosions, earthquakes, and severe air pollution.
The battle against fracking will still continue for residents of Pennsylvania despite this new evidence, but as many stories will boast that people are very concerned and willing to fight for more monitoring and research to ensure the industry is making the safety of communities their number one concern. Even if residents cannot win immediately and convince the state to switch to a new form of energy in the near future, there is at least widespread concern and a call for major regulations on the industry, which will one day help the state to move to a safer source of energy.
Suzanne Goldenberg. “Fracking produces annual toxic waste water enough to flood Washington DC.” The Guardian. October 4th, 2013.
Felicity Carus. “Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania.” The Guardian. October 2nd, 2013
Jim, Efstathiou. “Radiation in Pennsylvania Creek Seen as Legacy of Fracking” Bloomberg. October 2nd, 2013.