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NY Times Uncovers Secret Documents about the Dangers of Hydraulic Fracturing Gas Wells

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February 26, 2011

The New York Times has obtained previously unreleased documents from the government and drilling industry that show the process of hydraulic fracturing gas and oil wells is even more dangerous than previously thought.

An article in The New York Times reveals secret documents and studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as some from drilling industry participants, that prove hydraulic fracturing wastewater from gas drilling operations contains high levels of radioactive contaminants and is being released into waterways supplying drinking water.

According to documents and interviews, EPA scientists and experts are “alarmed.”

Hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking, fracing or fracking, has fueled the natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale beneath Pennsylvania because the process of injecting “fracking” fluid at extreme pressure creates fissures in the rock formations and extracts gas that was previously trapped.

Drilling companies use between two and five million gallons of “fracking” fluid in the hydrofracking of just one gas well. This toxic cocktail is a mixture of water, sand and hazardous chemicals. 50% to 75% of fracking fluids stay in the ground, potentially leaking into soil and ground water via migration through rock faults or faulty well casings.

However, the used fracking fluid, called produced water, which comes back up is even more dangerous after exposure to rock deep in the earth. This drilling wastewater is hazardous waste because it now also contains heavy metals, radioactive elements such as radium, known carcinogens including benzene and other toxins. Drilling operations are required to collect and dispose of produced water according to state regulations. These may include trucking to sewage treatment or disposal facilities, injection into disposal wells below ground or leaving it in collection ponds to evaporate.

The documents show that drilling wastewater contains higher levels of radioactivity that suspected.

The problem is that sewage treatment facilities are incapable of removing some contaminants from drilling wastewater, including radioactive contaminants, so the facility releases these into the environment when it discharges treated water into rivers and waterways. Most sewage facilities do not even test for radioactivity.

The documents included studies by the EPA and drilling industry that found that dumping radioactive waste into waterways does not sufficiently dilute it.

Drinking water intake plants downstream from these sewage facilities do not test or treat water for radioactivity.

Drilling operations took more than half of Pennsylvania’s drilling wastewater to public sewage treatment plants, and not only in Pennsylvania but in New York and West Virginia too.

Methane gas migration from drilling operations has contaminated drinking water supplies. Fracking fluids and produced water from migration, spills and leakage have entered water supplies. Air quality around well drilling platforms has decreased.

Contamination from gas and oil drilling is occurring across the county, due to little or no regulation, and is causing damage to the environment as well as serious and fatal adverse health effects in the population.

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  1. John says:
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    This article points out some of the major facts the nytimes overlooked: http://johnhanger.blogspot.com/2011/02/statement-regarding-sunday-nyt-february.html