Friday, October 21, 2011

EPA to regulate disposal of hydraulic fracturing wastewater

Colorado Independent
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Officials for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced plans to draft national standards for the treatment and disposal of tainted wastewater generated during the common oil and gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Associated Press reported the move in the wake of ongoing concerns by regulators about the inability of some wastewater treatment plants to handle fracking fluids that sometimes contains elevated levels of radium and other radioactive materials.

A natural gas rig near the entrance to Battlement Mesa on Colorado's Western Slope (David O. Williams photo).

The New York Times, in a series last February, exposed the problem and revealed deep concerns by state regulators in places like Pennsylvania, where drilling in the Marcellus Shale has come with a wave of fracking that has overwhelmed some wastewater treatment facilities.

The process, used in about 90 percent of all natural gas wells, injects up to 1 million gallons of water underground under very high pressure. The water, which includes sand and a chemical cocktail that often remains secret for proprietary reasons, forces open rock and sand formations and frees up more gas or oil.

In Colorado, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis have been trying to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act that would compel oil and gas companies to publicly disclose chemical constituents. DeGette has also raised the alarm about the use of diesel fuel in fracking mixtures.

Most fracking fluids are treated and recycled or injected into disposal wells deep beneath the groundwater table. Those wells are now a source of controversy because scientists believe they could be linked to earthquake swarms in places like Arkansas, where several wells were shut down recently.

In Colorado, where regulators have been working through a backlog of old spill enforcement cases, officials have said disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals won’t necessarily stop accidental leaks associated with faulty pipelines, well casings or pit liners meant to keep fluids stored for reuse from leaking into groundwater.

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