The disposal of contaminated wastewater generated from fracking in the Marcellus Shale region presents a significant risk to rivers and other bodies of water, finds a recent study carried out by Stony Brook University and published in this month’s issue of Risk Analysis. Of the several potential water pollution pathways from fracking that were examined, salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials contained in fracking fluids posed the greatest threat because many treatment facilities are not equipped to handle them. This conclusion has prompted the analysts to call for better regulations, and to suggest that "regulators should explore the option of mandating alternative fracturing procedures and methods” that would greatly reduce the amount of wastewater created.
We have long argued that few viable options exist for handling toxic wastewater, a dangerous and unavoidable byproduct of fracking that threatens clean water supplies and public health. These new findings from Stony Brook help substantiate a May 2012 report from NRDC titled “In Fracking’s Wake: New Rules Are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater” which, focusing primarily on the Marcellus Shale region, concludes that federal and state regulations have not kept pace with the enormous amounts of polluted wastewater generated by fracking.
The problem of fracking waste, which is exempt from federal and state rules for hazardous waste, is a particularly grave issue for the Marcellus region including New York and Pennsylvania. Due to the unique geology of the region, underground injection—the preferred disposal method throughout most of the country—is not currently considered a viable option. As a result, much of the liquid byproduct has been treated at facilities that then discharge into bodies of water that supply public drinking water.
This most recent study further confirms that we are not presently adequately prepared to manage contaminated wastewater should fracking be permitted to proceed in New York. Ensuring that public health and the environment can be protected must be our top priorities before moving forward with further fracking in the Marcellus Shale.