A New Study Has Found that Wastewater Disposal Is the Main Danger From Fracking

Scientists at Stony Brook University in an August 2012 article in the journal Risk Analysis asserted that future research into problems involved with the controversial oil/gas recovery practice commonly known as “fracking” will focus mainly on wastewater disposal.  That is because even in the best cases at least 200 cubic meters (over 50,000 gallons) of contaminated water is released from every treated well.

Waste water from fracking presents risks from salts and radioactive materials that are “several orders of magnitude larger” than for other potential water pollution possibilities examined in the study. Other water pollution pathways studied include tanker truck spills, well casing failures,  accidental drill site fluid spills,  and retention tank failures.  The fracking wastewater disposal risks, the study found, “dwarf the other water risks.”

The enormity of the risk that fracking entails can be seen in this assessment:

If only 10 percent of the Marcellus Shale region was developed, that could equate to 40,000 wells. Under the best-case median risk calculation that Rozell and Reaven [authors of the study] developed, the volume of contaminated wastewater “would equate to several hours flow of the Hudson River or a few thousand Olympic-sized swimming pools.” That represents a “potential substantial risk” that suggests additional steps should be taken to lower the potential for contaminated fracking fluid release, the authors say. Specifically, they suggest that “regulators should explore the option of mandating alternative fracturing procedures and methods to reduce the wastewater usage and contamination from shale gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale.” These would include various alternatives such as nitrogen-based or liquefied petroleum gas fracturing methods that would substantially reduce the amount of wastewater generated.

More information on the dangers of wastewater produced by fracking from the Wall Street Journal.