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Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by da1, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. da1

    da1 Member

    Apr 8, 2008
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    Scientists have for the first time found dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. If the UK follows in the steps of the US "shale gas revolution", it should impose regulations to stop such radioactive buildup, they said.

    The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year.

    Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters, the study found.

    Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking. Sometimes that "flowback" water is re-injected into rock deep underground, a practice that can cause seismic disturbances, but often it is treated before being discharged into watercourses.

    Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream. Such elevated levels of radioactivity are above regulated levels and would normally be seen at licensed radioactive disposal facilities, according to the scientists at Duke University's Nicholas school of the environment in North Carolina.

    Hundreds of disposal sites for wastewater could be similarly affected, said Professor Avner Vengosh, one of the authors of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal.

    "If people don't live in those places, it's not an immediate threat in terms of radioactivity," said Vengosh. "However, there's the danger of slow bio-accumulation of the radium. It will eventually end up in fish and that is a biological danger."

    Shale gas production is exempt from the Clean Water Act and the industry has pledged to self-monitor its waste production to avoid regulatory oversight.

    However, the study clearly showed the need for independent monitoring and regulation, said Vengosh.

    "What is happening is the direct result of a lack of any regulation. If the Clean Water Act was applied in 2005 when the shale gas boom started this would have been prevented.

    "In the UK, if shale gas is going to develop, it should not follow the American example and should impose environmental regulation to prevent this kind of radioactive buildup."

    The study also found elevated levels of salinity from the shale brine, which is five to 10 times more saline than sea water, that were 200-fold the regulated limit. Shale brine is also associated with high levels of bromide, which is not toxic by itself but turns into carcinogenic trihalomethanes during purification treatment.

    The US Geological Service has previously reported elevated levels of radioactivity in "flowback" water that naturally occurs in the rock. But the Duke study, called Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania, is the first to use isotope hydrology to connect the dots between shale gas waste, treatment sites and discharge into drinking water supplies.

    From January to June 2013, the 4,197 unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania reported 3.5m barrels of fluid waste and 10.7m barrels of "produced" fluid. Most of that waste is disposed of within Pennsylvania, but some of it is also went to other states, such as Ohio and New York despite its moratorium on shale gas exploration. In July, a treatment company in New York state pleaded guilty to falsifying more than 3,000 water tests.

    Earlier this year, Vengosh published another report that found higher methane, ethane and propane concentrations in drinking water within a kilometre of shale gas drilling at 141 sites where drinking water samples were taken.

  2. da1

    da1 Member

    Apr 8, 2008
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    Duke University researchers have published another study that's guaranteed to raise the ire of the energy industry by alleging that fracking increases the risk of drinking water contamination.

    This is the third study conducted by Duke scientists Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh. But this time the Duke duo concludes not only that proximity to shale gas wells increases contamination of methane in drinking water but also raises the likelihood of ethane and propane contamination.

    Their first study was roundly criticized by the oil and gas industry. The critics said that methane contamination was likely caused by the widespread presence of methane in Pennsylvania's water as a result of more than a century of energy exploration.

    Jackson and Vengosh say the increased presence of ethane and propane can only by linked to fracking and the evidence is "hard to refute." They analyzed 141 drinking water samples from private wells in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale basin.

    “Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled,” Jackson said in a statement. “The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium isotopes, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners' water."

    They are publishing their peer-reviewed findings in the only early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Their first study linked fracking to methane concentrations in well water in Pennsylvania. Their second study, issued last month, found no evidence of water contamination from fracking in Arkansas.

    They concluded that drilling techniques, wellbore integrity and other human factors help prevent gas leakage from drilling sites to shallow aquifers.

    "Our findings in Arkansas are important, but we are still only beginning to evaluate and understand the environmental risks of shale gas development," Vengosh said in last month's announcement. "Much more research is needed."

    Fracking refers to a form of natural gas exploration in which the gas, trapped inside prehistoric shale rock formations, is released by pumping in water and chemicals through shafts that have been drilled horizontally into the shale.

    North Carolina has a moratorium on fracking but state Senators and Representatives are negotiating legislation that could lift the moratorium in 2015.

    Read more here: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/busin...nking-fracking-to-tainted-water#storylink=cpy
  3. da1

    da1 Member

    Apr 8, 2008
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    Methane levels in private water wells are, on average, 17 times higher in wells that are within 1,000 feet of a natural gas drilling site.

    The researchers sampled the water from 68 wells in northeastern Pennsylvania and New York, and found methane in 85 percent of the wells.

    When they fingerprinted the methane itself — comparing the chemistry of the methane in the water wells with that of the gas from natural gas wells in the region — “the signatures matched,” said Robert B. Jackson, Nicholas Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke, one of the study’s authors.

    “At least some homeowners who claim that their wells were contaminated by shale gas extraction appear to be right,” he said.
    The peer-reviewed study was published Monday in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The authors said it was the first “systematic evidence “of methane contamination of private drinking wells in areas where gas extraction was occurring.

    Industry, which has said the methane gas in wells is mostly naturally-occurring, disputed the study, saying that the data set was insufficient, there was no adequate baseline for comparison and that the conclusions were flawed.

    The researchers agreed that more work needs to be done. Jackson called the study “a strong starting point” but added that “people need to do this in many other locations. I suspect the answer won’t always be the same.”

    Typically, shale gas is composed of about 90 percent methane, which is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas — but is also explosive. It has long been a touchpoint in the debate over natural gas drilling.

    Residents and others have blamed the industry. A much-viewed scene from the Josh Fox movie, “Gasland,” shows a man holding a lighter to water coming out of a kitchen sink faucet, causing a burst of flames.

    The Duke researchers say they saw a similar small explosion in northeastern Pennsylvania when they were conducting the study.
    They did not find evidence of well water contamination from fracking fluids or from the flowback water, which contains high levels of salts and other contaminants, including radioctivity, that are naturally-occurring in the shale formation.

    But in at least nine wells, they found methane at levels exceeding an amount that the U.S. Department of the Interior calls an “action level,” indicating that the wellhead should be immediately vented into the atmosphere.

    The testing occurred in July and September, mostly in the Northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Susquehanna and Bradford, but also Wayne and Lackawanna, plus Otsego County in New York.

    The area includes Dimock, which has been plagued by contaminated water wells. One well had exploded.

    A year ago, the DEP fined a driller $240,000, ordered it to plug three wells and banned it from drilling in the area for one year.
    In February, new drilling regulations designed to reduce gas migration incidents by mandating better casing and cementing procedures went into effect in Pennsylvania.

    The Duke researchers pointed out in a separate “white paper” on the effects of hydrofracking, which included research and policy recommendations, that there is “essentially no peer-reviewed research on its health effects at lower concentrations in water or air.”
    They recommended an independent medical review.

    They also called for more scientific study, the establishment of a comprehensive database on methane and other hydrocarbons in water, industry-driven approaches to developer safer extraction technologies and consideration of stronger state or federal regulation.

    The study did not show how the methane was getting into the wells, and the researchers suggested three possibilities. The first two — a natural migration and migration through the new fractures that hydrofracking causes — they deemed unlikely.

    They suggested leaky gas well casings as the most likely.

    John Conrad, an industry consultant who is senior hydrologist and president of Conrad Geoscience Corp. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said that because the researchers also found methane in areas where no drilling is taking place, it was insupportable to say the methane was in the water because of hydrofracking.

    “Based on the limited amount of data they have, that is a stretch,” he said. “Not that it’s not worth studying. But much more data is needed.” before you would suggest methane is in the drinking water is a result of hydraulic fracturing.”

    He also criticized the study for not starting with “baseline tests for the wells they sampled, at least for ones in the gas drilling areas.

    “While they point to higher methane concentrations, we don’t know what the original water quality was before drilling occurred,” he said. “That’s a data gap that could be very significant for this study.”

    He said that modern well casing and cementing practices, “when done properly, are considered to be sufficient to prevent gas migration.”
    But other scientists praised the work.

    “It’s a good start,” said David Velinsky, vice president of the Academy of Natural Science’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research. He has led research on the effects of natural gas drilling on surface water quality.

    “They confirmed what a lot of people thought, that methane from the drilling process was getting up into surface water, into well water … that this potential is real,” he said.

    “It also shows there’s a good tool out there to help in furthering this study,” Velinsky said. “Is it worthwhile to go to more areas to see if this is happening throughout the whole stretch of Marcellus shale drilling? To pick key areas and do this type of study again? I think it is.”

    Residents of the area also praised the study, saying it was long overdue.

    “I hope this is the first of many independent peer review studies addressing public health, water, air and the environment, in all shale regions being drilled,” said Rebecca Roter, a resident of Brooklyn Township in Susquehanna County.

    “I would be thrilled if this study set the bar for more needed independent scientific research on the cumulative public health effects of shale gas extraction.”

    The Duke researchers tested her well and found no methane, which didn’t surprise her because drilling has not yet come to her community.
    But she — and most of her neighbors — have signed leases, and she expects that within months, drillers will arrive at a neighbor’s property.

    “My water well will be within a half a mile of natural gas wells,” she said.

    “I’m worried about my drinking water, my air, my spring peepers,” she said. “Once the aquifer is shot, that’s it.”

    Former DEP secretary John Hanger said that while the sample size was small, “the study seems to be well done.”

    He said it had two basic findings consistent with his experience at DEP. One is that no fracking fluids were found in the groundwater of private wells.

    For the other, “Duke confirms our experience that gas had migrated in some cases as a result of drilling to private water wells,” he said. “In our experience the cause was failures in the gas drilling/gas wells.”

    He said the state had “confirmed problems in the gas wells in Dimock” and was able to stop the migration in 14 of 19 private water wells by December 2010 as a result of plugging and repairing gas wells.

    “Some in the industry and their allies claim that gas has never migrated from a gas well to a private water well,” he said. “They are wrong. It has.”

    While it is not required, most drillers in the state test water wells within 1,000 feet of a site before drilling. If no testing is done, state law presumes the drilling caused any subsequent problems.

    “This study provides some evidence to extend the 1,000 feet to about 1,500 feet or so,” Hanger said.

    The researchers suggested 3,000 feet would be an appropriate distance for ground-water and well water sampling.

  4. Commodore

    Commodore Contributing Member

    Dec 15, 2007
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    chicken littles doing the same thing to fracking they did to nuclear power in the 1970s

    go away and let us make energy
  5. robbie380

    robbie380 ლ(▀̿Ĺ̯▀̿ ̿ლ)
    Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2002
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    It's just the reality of fracking. You don't need to ignore reality because you don't want to accept it.
  6. geeimsobored

    geeimsobored Contributing Member

    Aug 20, 2005
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    No one said ban fracking but you can't possibly suggest that it should be unregulated. If you go to Western North Dakota, you'll see how that place is slowly turning into a wasteland. There are oil spills left and right now and people there have stopped using regular drinking water. Several oil companies now haul in water from outside the Bakken fields because the water isn't safe to drink anymore.

    Its fine to drill for oil but there should be some expectation of environmental safety which isn't the case in large parts of the country right now. That to me is unacceptable.
  7. bigtexxx

    bigtexxx Contributing Member

    Jun 12, 2002
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    in before people start posting videos of tap water on fire and quoting the worldwide energy expert Matt Damon
  8. Cohete Rojo

    Cohete Rojo Contributing Member

    Oct 29, 2009
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    I did not quite understand the first article. It makes it sound as though the discharged water (which I guess they want us to think is being discharged in drinking reservoirs) is highly contaminated, but at the same time the article makes it sound like wastewater in general is contaminated (which I guess is not new news). Too much accusation. Perhaps the OP can find an article that does not mince words on the issue.

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