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

Energy

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.

12 tons of radioactive fracking waste is heading for a hazardous waste facility in the Detroit area from Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Ban Michigan Fracking

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.

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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.

100 protestors showed up at an appearance by Governor Pat Quinn at the Illinois State Fair. Photo credit: Illinois People's Action

"The real tragedy here is that corporate greed could win out over the welfare of the people of Illinois," said IPA spokesman Bill Rau. "This is not about jobs for Illinoisians. This is about profit for oil and gas companies. The choice our elected officials are facing is whether they are going to stand with families and our environment as our Illinois Constitution says, or blindly support what oil and gas wants to do for its own profits. We're asking Governor Quinn, Whose side are you on?"

It's a question being asked in Michigan and New Jersey and England—and many other places—as well.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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