Report: All Fracking Wastewater Disposal Methods Fail to Protect Public Health and Environment
All currently available options for dealing with contaminated wastewater from fracking are inadequate to protect human health and the environment, but stronger federal and state protections can better safeguard against the threats posed by this byproduct, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report reveals how gas companies in Pennsylvania disposed of more than 30 million gallons of wastewater last year and details the dangers presented by the disposal methods used.
“Contaminated wastewater has long been one of our biggest concerns about fracking, and this report confirms that current practices put both the environment and public health at risk,” said NRDC attorney Rebecca Hammer. “Americans shouldn’t have to trade their safe drinking water for fuel. We need strong safeguards on the books to ensure oil and gas companies aren’t polluting our rivers, contaminating our drinking water or even risking man-made earthquakes when they come to frack in our communities.”
The report, In Fracking’s Wake: New Rules Are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater, represents one of the most comprehensive reviews to date of the available options for disposing high-volume wastewater from fracking. It analyzes wastewater disposal practices in Pennsylvania last year, and provides recommendations for better protecting public health and the environment nationwide. It was co-authored by NRDC and an independent scientist.
Wastewater Disposal Methods
The five most common disposal options for fracking wastewater currently in use are: recycling for additional fracking, treatment and discharge to surface waters, underground injection, storage in open air pits, and spreading on roads for ice or dust control. All of these options present significant risks of harm to public health or the environment. And there are not sufficient rules in place to ensure any of them will not harm people or ecosystems.
Some of these methods present such great threats that they should be banned immediately. These methods include treatment at municipal sewage treatment plants and subsequent discharge into surface waters, storage in open air pits and road spreading. Meanwhile recycling for reuse in fracking operations and underground injection into properly designed and sited disposal wells (that better protect against groundwater contamination and seismic activity) hold the most potential for improvement if strong safety standards are instituted for these methods.
Treatment at industrial facilities faces significant hurdles that may also be addressed with improved safeguards. But it would still remain a less preferable disposal method for a number of reasons, perhaps the most significant of which is the risks it would still pose to people’s health in the event of a misstep, as the treated wastewater is dumped into waterways that provide drinking water.
Pennsylvania Wastewater Disposal in 2011
In Pennsylvania, a majority of the state’s wastewater last year was released into bodies of water—including drinking water supplies—as a result of poor treatment practices. More than half of all fracking wastewater was sent to treatment plants—either industrial facilities or municipal sewage plants. Of this, about 10 percent—or more than 2 million gallons—was sent to facilities that that the state has exempted from its most current water pollution limits, meaning it could be discharged with higher levels of contaminants than waste processed at updated plants.
When this wastewater is sent to municipal sewage facilities, harmful chemicals and other pollutants are merely diluted, rather than removed, and then released into surface waters, posing serious threats to the state’s rivers, lakes and streams, as well as drinking water supplies. Industrial facilities, too, are often not designed to treat the contents of the wastewater, and can also release it into waterways or send it for reuse, after it is processed. Complete information about where industrial facilities sent processed wastewater in Pennsylvania last year was not made available by the state.
Additionally, about one-third of Pennsylvania’s fracking wastewater in 2011 was recycled for reuse in fracking, and about 10 percent was disposed of by underground injection (the majority of which took place in Ohio). The remaining less than 1 percent was reported to be in storage pending treatment or disposal, though information was not available on whether it was in open air pits or enclosed tanks. An unknown amount was applied (typically after only partial treatment) to roadways for ice or dust control, where it is often carried into nearby waterways when it rains or snow melts.
The problem of what to do with this byproduct is growing as the volume of wastewater continues to increase rapidly with the expansion of fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation and nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, total reported wastewater volumes more than doubled from the first half of 2011 to the second half.
The wastewater disposal methods most commonly used in Pennsylvania differ largely from other parts of the country. On average nationally, 90 percent of wastewater is disposed of in injection wells. The Marcellus Shale region, however, poses particular problems because the geology cannot accommodate large volumes of injected wastewater. Therefore, gas companies there have to ship large quantities of it elsewhere.
“Pennsylvania and the entire Marcellus Shale region have geological limitations that make wastewater disposal a particularly vexing problem for the area,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney at NRDC. “But the lessons learned there are applicable nationwide. It is critical states in this region that are already fracking clean up their act fast. And states like New York, where gas companies are still knocking on the door, must not let them in until they get this right.”
Stronger Safeguards Needed
The threats posed by these disposal methods underscore the need for stronger state and federal safeguards against pollution from contaminated fracking wastewater. These improvements include (a) closing the loophole in federal law that exempts hazardous oil and gas waste from treatment, storage, and disposal requirements applicable to other hazardous waste, and (b) improving standards for wastewater treatment facilities and the level of treatment required before the processed water is discharged into bodies of water.
In states like New York where fracking is not yet active, this means the activity should not move forward there until these issues, and other environmental and public health concerns, are properly addressed. Where fracking is already taking place, it underscores the need for new environmental and public health standards, as well as enforcement, to overhaul the way industry is disposing of this waste and otherwise operating in our backyards.
Wastewater contains a variety of potentially harmful pollutants that can be toxic to humans and aquatic life, radioactive, or corrosive if they are released into the environment or if people are exposed to them. They can damage ecosystem health by depleting oxygen or causing algae blooms, or interact with disinfectants at drinking water plants to form cancer-causing chemicals. These pollutants include salts, oil, grease, metals, naturally occurring radioactive material and a cocktail of chemicals used in fracking.
Fracking involves using blasting high volumes of water and sand, mixed with undisclosed chemicals, into the ground to break apart rock and release previously inaccessible pockets of natural gas. Wastewater is created when that water mixture returns to the surface immediately after fracking, and continues to emerge from the well after production begins along with polluted water contained naturally within the underground rock formation.
The full report is available online by clicking here.
For more information, click here.
By Astrid Caldas
As we reach the official end of hurricane season, 2020 will be one for the record books. Looking back at these long, surprising, sometimes downright crazy past six months (seven if you count when the first named storms actually started forming), there are many noteworthy statistics and patterns that drive home the significance of this hurricane season, and the ways climate change may have contributed to it.
A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
‘Protect Our Future’<p>Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/03/youth-climate-lawsuit-portugal-33-european-countries" target="_blank">bringing the case</a> with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (<span style="background-color: initial;">GLAN</span>), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.</p><p>Portugal recently sweltered through its <a href="https://www.ipma.pt/pt/media/noticias/news.detail.jsp?f=/pt/media/noticias/textos/resumo-clima-julho-20.html" target="_blank">hottest July in 90 years</a> and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017. </p><p>Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case." </p><p>"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."</p>
‘Highly Significant'<p>The decision represents a "highly significant" step, <a href="https://www.glanlaw.org/about-us" target="_blank">GLAN</a> Director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said in a <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/" target="_blank">press release</a>.</p><p>"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added. </p><p>By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.</p><p>If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.</p>
‘Major Hurdle’<p>The <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/the-case/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries targeted</a> include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement">Paris agreement</a> target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).<a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a></p><p><a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Action Tracker rates</a> most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.</p><p>The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/2030_ctp_en" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 55 percent by 2030</a>. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that <a href="http://www.caneurope.org/energy/climate-energy-targets" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">European climate campaigners say</a> is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.</p><p> The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense. </p><p>"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.</p><p>"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/11/29/court-advances-landmark-youth-climate-lawsuit-against-33-european-nations" target="_blank">DeSmog</a>. </em></p>
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By Liz Kimbrough
Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the "Green Nobel Prize," this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continents.
Kristal Ambrose, the Bahamas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzI3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM5NTk5MX0.fdMrrUqf0HvWq0Uh0Ii3mXxJczHPyN1jcnSsQoXoerE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b9e66" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b8b8777f7964bb7100672b3be0abf3fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Kristal Ambrose. Goldman Environmental Prize
Chibeze Ezekiel, Ghana<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTgzOTE3OX0.KoEZr3oMPKbeG2uT8q-ZsGPOGtIZ3l6V6NXEK5U90FU/img.jpg?width=980" id="65224" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec640a8ba56a4db22b57e4f8734a7a4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Chibeze Ezekiel. Goldman Environmental Prize
Nemonte Nenquimo, Ecuador<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzYxODYwM30.cys5ZsFGd75UcjybADGBPFt20jrzgrsFujoj_qMTK4E/img.jpg?width=980" id="96b5a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0778ab7334e3297e0ead52d5fd1499e5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nemonte Nenquimo. Goldman Environmental Prize
Leydy Pech, Mexico<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkzOTYzOH0.uHlN2FQoJJ_KFJWTn4oL__lDyjA0-HDnxewBhwgQRVg/img.jpg?width=980" id="9ab07" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc347126d4ce9ddbb3b9c1b4673391b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Leydy Pech. Goldman Environmental Prize
Lucie Pinson, France<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzE0NTU1NX0.OutmX3sfl4pMaoYssTQ4zk7Y14_hans7-Z-0B0xsjfM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4bcd7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff14750dc0a70fc79e9484ea2bdbd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lucie Pinson. Goldman Environmental Prize
Paul Sein Twa, Myanmar<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDAyNjU0MH0.DHrKykngmcJyJ5rn4r91ANH7FmQ7Us6ZMEOis8yAzGY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8fa36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e703d62288df00931cd678c861c6e0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Paul Sein Twa. Goldman Environmental Prize
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