The Hard Numbers on Fracking: Radiation, Toxic Wastewater and Air Pollution

From Truth Out:

By Mike Ludwig
Friday, 04 October 2013

Researchers have found elevated levels of radioactive material and other pollutants in Pennsylvania’s scenic Blacklick Creek, and they say fracking is to blame.

Researchers at Duke University announced this week that samples collected from 2010 to 2012 near a fracking wastewater treatment facility that discharges into Blacklick Creek had up to 200 times the amount of radium than samples just upstream, as well as elevated levels of salts and heavy metals.

“The radioactivity levels we found in sediments near the outflow are above management regulations in the United States and would only be accepted at a licensed radioactive disposal facility,” said Robert B. Jackson, professor of environmental science at Duke.

Hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” involves forcing high volumes of water and chemicals into underground formations to release fossil fuels. Advances in fracking technology triggered an oil and gas rush in Pennsylvania and across the country, and after several years of heavy fracking, researchers are now beginning to quantify the environmental damage.

The heavily-fracked Marcellus Shale formation under Pennsylvania is naturally high in radioactive material. In 2011, the state asked fracking firms to voluntarily stop sending wastewater to facilities like the one on Blacklick Creek until they upgraded treatment equipment, but wastewater is still discharged into the environment in some other states, according to the Duke team.

Where Do You Put Billions of Gallons of Toxic Wastewater?

The fracking industry produced 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012 alone, according to a recent report from Environment America. Since 2005, the industry has used 250 billion gallons of fresh water to produce oil and gas, which was turned into toxic wastewater along with underground water unearthed in production.

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