I have written before about the Marcellus Shale Debate and water issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing. But a recent report from David B. Caruso of the Associated Press drawing attention to the weak regulation in Pennsylvania surrounding wastewater disposal produced by natural gas drilling really opened my eyes to some of the dangers facing Pennsylvania’s waterways. Caruso reports that most states require drillers to get rid of wastewater by injecting it down shafts thousands of feet deep. However, Pennsylvania has been the only state allowing waterways to serve as the primary disposal place for the huge amounts of wastewater produced by fracking. How did Pennsylvania fare in wastewater disposal in 2010 and are there hopes for better results in 2011?
Statistics for wastewater disposal were not good according to the PA state records and the Associated Press review numbers presented be Caruso:
- At least 3.6 million barrels of the waste were sent to treatment plants that empty into rivers during the 12 months ending June 30.
- The state could not account for the disposal method of about 1.28 million barrels (or one fifth of the total barrels) of well liquids produced in a 12-month period 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.
- In 2009 and part of 2010, energy company Cabot Oil & Gas trucked more than 44,000 barrels of well wastewater to a treatment facility in Hatfield Township, a Philadelphia suburb. Those liquids ultimately were discharged into a creek that provides drinking water to 17 municipalities with more than 300,000 residents
Cabot said it has since been reusing 100 percent of its well water in new drilling operations, rather than trucking it to treatment plants. In addition all 10 of the biggest drillers in the state say “they have either eliminated river discharges in the past few months, or reduced them to a small fraction of what they were a year ago.”
There have been no records or reports which verify a drop off in wastewater discharges, but statistics should be available by midwinter according to the report. Let’s hope 2011 sees increased regulation on wastewater disposal and cooperation between drilling companies, the Department of Environmental Protection and local communities.
You can read Caruso’s full article, ‘Fracking’ Pollution in Water: Pennsylvania Allows Natural Gas Drilling Waste Disposal in Water Ways on line at The Huffington Post.
Image Credit: Marcellus Protest via Flickr under CC license.