It’s no secret that a byproduct of hydro fracking is wastewater. Hyrdraulic fracturing is, at its simplest level, the use of pressurized liquid to split rock, allowing the extraction of oil and gas from the earth. What may be a surprise are the results of a study recently released in the Environmental Science journal.
The study tracked wastewater from fracking, analyzing the composition of riverbed downstream from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility plant in western Pennsylvania, to determine whether the fracking process was contributing to water and ground contamination, and if so, what. Researchers discovered that the amount of radioactive material downstream from the plant was more than 200 percent of the level found upstream. Specifically, there was a higher occurrence of radium – a naturally-occurring radioactive material often found in rocks – as well as chloride, bromide and sulfate.
Radium contamination can be insidious, building up concentrations in insects and animals near to a contaminated site and then spreading outward from there. The chemical signature found in the wastewater was compared to that of the rocks present in the Marcellus Shale, leading researchers to connect the radioactive byproduct to fracking at that location.
The water contamination documented by the researchers was not limited to radioactive waste. The salt content of wastewater that was eliminated from the treatment plant contained was 200 percent more than what is allowed under the Clean Water Act. The wastewater byproduct – although 10 times saltier than seawater, according to the study researchers – is suspiciously exempt from the Clean Water Act.
Source: NBC News, “Fracking wastewater contaminated- and likely radioactive,” October 2, 2013