Fracking Waste Disposal Fuels Opposition in U.S. and Abroad

Yves here. We’ve posted on some of the not-as-widely publicized damage done by fracking, such as methane releases and increased incidence of earthquakes, as well as the most obvious hazard, which is contamination of water supplies.

This article describes yet another environmental cost, that of fracking waste disposal. Expect this to become a new NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue as the public becomes more familiar with this risk.

By Anastasia Pantsios. Originally published at EcoWatch

A poll taken by Public Policy Polling revealed this week that 65 percent of California residents oppose dumping fracking waste in the ocean. The actions of fracking companies in both the U.S. and England, the eagerness of many government bodies and officials to cater to them, and the obfuscation around the disposal of the waste show they have reason to be concerned.

Ban Michigan Fracking reports that 12 tons of radioactive fracking waste is heading for a hazardous waste facility in the Detroit area from Pennsylvania. The facility, Wayne Disposal Inc., is one of only two in the country that accepts this waste (the other is in Idaho), which was already rejected by a West Virginia facility for its high level of radioactivity.

The group spoke to Ken Yale, chief of Radiological Protection division at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who said he was unaware of this particular shipment. Another Michigan facility that processes radioactive waste for shipment to the Idaho landfill does not have to report the shipments it receives to the Department of Environmental Quality.

The lack of places to dump fracking waste is emerging as one of the industry’s biggest problems. Recently, for the second time, the New Jersey legislature voted by an overwhelming bipartisan majority to prohibit the treatment, storing and disposal of fracking waste water in that state  And last week it was vetoed for the second time by Governor Chris Christie, angering environmentalists, as well as legislators.

One of the bill’s sponsors, state senator Bob Gordon, released a statement that said, “The liquids used in fracking are toxic substances that are known to be hazardous to humans, and this legislation would have protected New Jersey residents from that danger. One of the main responsibilities of government is to protect its residents from harm, and today Gov. Chris Christie failed that test.”

In England, where the government announced last month that half the country would be open to fracking, it’s also approved the injection of a million and a half gallons of potentially radioactive water under the North Moors National Park, reports public interest investigative organization Spinwatch. Third Energy, which holds the rights to the oil field located under the park, is currently planning only conventional gas drilling. But the area is said to contain extensive stores of shale gas as well.

fracking waste disposal pretty park picture

In England, the government approved the injection of a million and a half gallons of potentially radioactive water under the North Moors National Park. Photo credit: Spinwatch

Spinwatch’s Andy Rowell reports:

The commercial success of the Ebberston Moor field depends on Third Energy being allowed to re-inject the potentially radioactive water that is produced with the gas back into what is known as the Sherwood Sandstone formation, which overlies the limestone where the gas will be extracted from. The sandstone lies 1400 metres below the ground. Notes of a meeting between Third Energy and the regulator involved, the Environment Agency, disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reveals that “the success of the Ebberston Moor Field is dependent on the disposal of [produced] water to the Sherman Sandstone.”

As in Michigan, there are unanswered questions surrounding the impact of fracking waste disposal. While Third Energy says the risk of contaminating drinking water is minimal, local anti-fracking activists have expressed concern about leakage, since the re-injection well would pass through aquifers that supply drinking water.

Activist Russell Scott points out at Frack Free Yorkshire that the proposed waste is equivalent to “a full sized Olympic swimming pool full of hazardous waste pumped down the well under high pressure every day for over nine years. ” He says, “Third Energy’s suggestions that this process will not have any negative impacts on the integrity of the well casing protecting our drinking water from the injected waste is simply ridiculous.”

With so much unclear about the safety of fracking waste and where it is ending up, citizen protests are becoming increasingly common. Illinois People’s Action reports that 100 protestors from its organization and others showed up at an appearance by Governor Pat Quinn at the Illinois State Fair.

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  1. abynormal

    ‘shy’ numbers from 2013…”Limited available water resources, drought and increasing water-use demands from all segments of the economy is driving water management issues to the forefront of US exploration and production (E&P) operations’ considerations and accounts for $8 billion in spending for water services in US unconventional oil and gas plays, according to a report from IHS.

    The analytics firm forecasts oil and gas water management to far exceed the modest growth (13 percent) it predicts in the overall national water management market, says Marcus Oliver Gay, principal author of the IHS study and director, Water Information and Insight at IHS. Gay says the continental US oilfield water management market will grow to $38 billion by 2022, with demand for water management services in high-activity shale gas and tight oil plays growing by nearly 40 percent by 2022, to about $11.2 billion.”
    ‘bold’ example for future gouging: “Aaron Horn, consultant with CAP Resources and a contributing author of the report, says no “one-size-fits-all solution exists for water management in oil and gas” because of the localized water services sector and the variability of water availability across regions. Because of this, local water sourcing, disposal options, and regulations will drive customized water management in each play or basin, Horn says.

    In Texas, for example, the report notes that development of unconventional oil and gas activities often account for less than 1 percent of the state’s available water resources. However, in some locations such as Johnson County, Texas, E&P water use may account for as much as 29 percent of the available water resource at the county level.”

  2. Expat

    This is another story from the Those Guys Never Ever Give Up Department. Remember the Reagan anti- environmental Interior Secretary James Watt & and the felon Anne Gorsuch who ran the so-called Environmental Protection Agency? She at least went to prison for her willful attack on democratic government and the environment in which we all live. Watt was on record as saying that God put mankind on this earth to use it up and exploit it in a generation. I think God told him personally since there is not much in scripture to support that position. The only thing that has changed in the past 35 years is that these characters — knaves and fools all — have learned to keep their true feelings out the press.

    1. Vatch

      I was fairly young when Reagan became President. Up to then, I was skeptical about many religious claims, and I was politically liberal (in the “progressive” sense — definitely not neo-liberal), but I hadn’t made many connections between religious extremism and politics. Until then, about the only dangerous connection I saw between religious fundamentalism and politics was in the realm of education. The Christian right wing wanted to replace the teaching of biological evolution with creationism, which infuriated me.

      Then Reagan, Watt, and their ilk came into office, and I learned that Christian fundamentalism and apocalypticism have tendrils that extend just about everywhere. Why care for the environment if the end times are imminent? And even if the end times don’t come for a while, the Bible tells us to “be fruitful and multiply”, which is a recipe for disaster on our finite world. Religious faith is one of the most dangerous phenomena on our planet, and isn’t just the Christians. Just look at what ISIS is doing (and I’m not referring to the Egyptian goddess Isis!).

  3. mellon

    Here are some hydrofracturing links – Save This List!

    Fracking releases lots more methane than is realized and that makes it potentially a greenhouse gas disaster-

    EHP – Radionuclides in Fracking Wastewater: Managing a Toxic Blend

    EPA drastically underestimates methane released at drilling sites – Los Angeles Times

    EHP – Environmental Public Health Dimensions of Shale and Tight Gas Development (Huge authoritative and recent review article with dozens of linked papers on many *health* aspects of fracking)

    Sierra Club analysis of the backroom EU-US “TTIP energy deal”

    EHP on Endocrine Disruptors (Topic Area)

    Fracking Chemicals Disrupt Hormone Function | Endocrine Society

    The Lone Pine Case – Is there a ‘Right to Frack’, bestowed by trade deals? (the actual case documents)

    Pennsylvania Instructed Its Employees To Ignore Residents Sickened By Drilling

    The Endocrine Disruption Exchange – Information on Natural Gas Development

    Fracking flowback could pollute groundwater with heavy metals

  4. Thorstein

    Fracking’s only the sooty tip of the (melting) iceberg. Down here in Florida there’s not much methane (and the little there is is too admixed with hydrogen sulfide and other nasties). Down here “produced water” is a much, much, much bigger threat than fracking flowback. “Produced water” is (salt)water that has been stewing with oil two miles deep for 100 million years. With every barrel of oil, a typical Everglades oil well brings up 20 barrels of this “produced water” containing radon and other NORMs, heavy metals, and water soluble volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene (“BTEX” VOCs). BTEX concentrations alone are on the order of 40,000 ppm (while the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for benzene is 5 ppm!). Yet these contaminants are almost everywhere completely unregulated (some regulatory progress is beginning to show up in the North Sea oil fields). Since the “Bentsen amendment” to RCRA (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976), the EPA has not regulated this “produced water”, save through its sometimes authority to license “Class II injection wells”. The EPA will willingly cede this authority to any oil-producing state that asks for it. The net result is that “produced water” has been almost entirely unstudied and unregulated.

    In gas wells, 40-50% of fracking flowback can consist of this “produced water”, but the overall quantities are much smaller. Whereas a typical gas well produces 2-50 bbl of “produced water” per day, a typical South Florida oil well produces ~4,000 bbl/da. Whereas a single gas well may be fracked 3 times over ten years, creating some 15 M gallons of toxic flowback water, over 10 years an Everglades oil well would produce 600 M gallons of this equally if not more toxic “produced water”.

    In the good old days, they used to dump this toxic effluvium in the swamp and pray for rain. The good news (?) is that in the wake of the Bentsen Amendment the oil industry mostly agreed to pump this poisonous produced water back down where it came from, in injection wells one or two miles deep. The bad news is that (a) in Ohio and elsewhere these injection wells are causing earthquakes, and (b) in the Everglades the EPA has been permitting injection only 2,000 feet deep into Florida’s honeycombed, brine-soaked limestone. The EPA itself found such injection wells lack “a competent confining layer” separating them from our Underground Sources of Drinking Water.

    Raising this issue was very important to us down here in stopping a recent 115,000-acre exploratory lease close to homes and “protected” habitat. We got the EPA to at least consider not approving a key injection well and the industry backed down. Other communities, especially where extreme extraction methods are being deployed for oil, should be conscious of this issue, too.

    1. McMike

      This is something that bothers me: just because it is down a mile or so, how does that make it okay? Shouldn’t that notion include a qualifying asterisk, such as: okay…. *for now*.

      it is never ever coming back up? Might we ever need the stuff that’s down there, uncontaminated?

      It is really a monumental stupidity of our age, this notion that deep = without consequence. It’s the modern equivalent of dumping our bedpans in the pond.

  5. Jardinero1

    A million and a half gallons is not really much water. It would fill a cube 58.5 feet on a side. The solution to pollution is dilution. Dump it in the ocean. It will be alright.

    1. McMike

      Nah, much more cost effective to pump it into a stream. It’ll go into the ocean by itself then.

      And if you have solid waste, the best bet is to pitch off the edge of a nearby ravine.

        1. Gaianne


          A good solution, such as you propose, causes the problem to take care of itself.


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