Fracking Fallout: Radiation Water Tests Loom

Friday, March 4, 2011 @ 03:03 PM gHale


Fracking seems to be on the verge of becoming a very common word – at least in Pennsylvania.

Two western Pennsylvania water companies said they will begin testing water supplies for radiation, citing treated gas-drilling water discharged into streams and rivers.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Pennsylvania American Water Co. said will conduct tests in the coming weeks.

The natural gas drilling process known as fracking produces chemically tainted and sometimes radioactive wastewater. The industry now recycles more than half the tainted water produced in Pennsylvania but expansion of drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation offsets some of those gains.

In the last half of 2010 at least 2.8 million barrels of well wastewater went through Pennsylvania treatment plants that discharge into rivers and streams.

In a fracking related incident, an explosion and fire at a gas well injured three workers Feb. 23, authorities said. The blast occurred at the Chesapeake Appalachia LLC Powers site in Avella, PA, Washington County emergency officials said.

Workers were transferring water used in a fracking process and several of the natural gas liquids storage tanks caught fire, said Katy Gresh, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection’s southwest region.

During fracking, water mixed with sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, runs at high pressure into the wells, shattering the underground shale and releasing trapped gas. Residents in several communities where fracking occurs have voiced concerns about possible water contamination and other safety issues, but the gas companies say they have conducted the procedure safely for decades.

On the legislative front, even though there’s mounting public pressure on the natural gas industry to rein in the fracking process, the practice is largely exempt from federal environmental regulation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never investigated the process engineers use to extract the gas trapped underneath shale deposits deep below the earth’s surface. But now the EPA is preparing a review to extend its oversight into fracking.

Under the preliminary version of the overhaul, the EPA will investigate instances of water contamination in three to five sites, as a sample from the far wider number of fracking sites across the country. EPA investigators would also conduct two or three full case studies to examine the environmental effects of fracking over the full course of a cycle of gas extraction.

The fight over fracking is heating up at the local level. In New York, outgoing Governor David Paterson issued a moratorium on fracking until investigators could more fully determine its safety. The state’s new environmental chief, Joe Martens, said his agency won’t be awaiting the results of the EPA’s review, which will take two years to complete. Martens said he will draft an enhanced set of new regulations aimed at preventing fracking-related damage to the state’s water supplies.

“As I think the governor has said, in various policy books, we won’t undertake drilling until we’re confident it can be done safely,” Martens said. To date, the cities of Buffalo and Pittsburgh banned the practice of fracking.



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