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Smithsonian: Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found In A Pennsylvania Stream


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Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found in a Pennsylvania Stream

 

In the state of Pennsylvania, home to the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation, 74 facilities treat wastewater from the process of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”) for natural gas and release it into streams. There’s no national set of standards that guides this treatment process—the EPA notes that the Clean Water Act’s guidelines were developed before fracking even existed, and that many of the processing plants “are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater”—and scientists have conducted relatively little assessment of the wastewater to ensure it’s safe after being treated.

 

Recently, a group of Duke University scientists decided to do some testing. They contacted the owners of one treatment plant, the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility on Blacklick Creek in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, but, “when we tried to work with them, it was very difficult getting ahold of the right person,” says Avner Vengosh, an Earth scientist from Duke. “Eventually, we just went and tested water right from a public area downstream.”

 

Their analyses, made on water samples collected repeatedly over the course of two years, were even more concerning than we’d feared. As published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they found high concentrations of the element radium, a highly radioactive substance. The concentrations were roughly 200 times higher than background levels. In addition,  amounts of chloride and bromide in the water were two to ten times greater than normal.

 

“Even if, today, you completely stopped disposal of the wastewater,” Vengosh says, there’s enough contamination built up that”you’d still end up with a place that the U.S. would consider a radioactive waste site.”

 

...

 

The study—which is part of a larger Duke project studying the effect of fracking on water—doesn’t show that fracking is inherently unsafe, but does show that without proper controls, the wastewater being dumped into the environment daily represents a very real danger for local residents.

 

 

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certainly worth looking at, but probably more alarmist than anything

 

 

Five Facts About Duke’s Latest Anti-Shale Study

http://energyindepth.org/marcellus/five-facts-about-dukes-latest-anti-shale-study/

 

 

What I find amusing:

 

 

FACT 5: The study was funded by the anti-fracking Park Foundation.

 

When Energy in Depth is

 

 

Energy in Depth (EID) is a pro-oil-and-gas drilling industry front group formed by the American Petroleum Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and dozens of additional industry organizations for the purpose of criticizing the documentary "Gaslands", their latest attempt being a documentary produced by a political attack ad agency for EID, the ironically titled "Truthland"[1] which was exposed as a gas industry infomercial[2] as soon as it was released.

 

Pot, meet kettle.

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so you think lies like Gasland contained should not be refuted?

 

doesn't posting the OP w/o a disclaimer make you the pot to my kettle  :)

 

this pretty much says it all

 

 

 After all the talk of high levels of radiation, clearly designed to secure headlines (like all good Park-funded studies; see more on that below), it turns out that radium levels were below established thresholds.

 

next week....Water is poison 

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this pretty much says it all

After all the talk of high levels of radiation, clearly designed to secure headlines (like all good Park-funded studies; see more on that below), it turns out that radium levels were below established thresholds.

Established thresholds for what?

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What I find amusing:

 

 

When Energy in Depth is

 

 

Pot, meet kettle.

 

 

Much of it is just intellectually dishonest:

 

For example, they only sample right outside of the "tail pipe":

 

"However, an EF value of 16 for chloride was recorded 1.78 km downstream of the effluent discharge (Figure 3a). Likewise, bromide concentrations were very low in upstream samples (0.03–0.1 mg/L) and were enriched by 6000–12 000 in the wastewater effluent. The downstream bromide EF values at distances of 300, 600, and 1780 m were 186, 33, and 37, respectively (Figure 3 B). Our data show that in spite of a major dilution of the bromide-rich wastewater effluent, downstream river water had a significant bromide enrichment of almost 40 fold even at a distance of 1.78 km from the discharge site (although this conclusion is based on a single sampling event during low 223C.gif5 m3/s streamflow). Overall, downstream concentrations were significantly higher than upstream concentrations (p < 0.01, Wilcoxon-Mann–Whitney test; SI Table S6)."

 

So at 1.78 km from where it is released they are seeing a significant affect (and kudos for these people for doing the Wilcoxon test and not a student's t-test).

 

In terms of when they saw high TDS being important for much of anything, they actually mention TDS three times in the paper, twice are in data tables and so once in the actual text of the manuscript do they mention TDS. 

 

Now, they are still measuring high chloride and bromide in 2012, but it is much lower than it was at 1 m than in 2010 (the 2010 numbers are almost 10X higher).  They both drop to comparable numbers at 10 meters (and the 2012 point is higher, but they are same order of magnitude), suggesting the expected pretty rapid dillution (though still significantly above background levels).

 

Oh and for those data points in 2010 when they have really high bromide and chloride as compared to 2012 at 1 m, they don't have a TDS value so where you'd expect the 2010 data to be much higher than the 2012 data for TDS, they don't have the data.

 

In terms of the radon being released being below the industrial limits, that's part of their major points:

 

This is part of the abstract:

 

"Barium and radium were substantially (>90%) reduced in the treated effluents compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. Nonetheless, 226Ra levels in stream sediments (544–8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were 223C.gif200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22–44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal."

 

Then in the paper:

 

"For example, in Michigan a radiation threshold that would require transportation of solid waste to a licensed radioactive waste disposal facility is 1850 Bq/kg or 50 pCi/g.(26) Consequently, our data show that in spite of a significant reduction in Ra activities in the discharge water, the treated effluent has a significant impact on the sediments in Blacklick Creek because Ra has apparently adsorbed and accumulated on the sediments locally at the discharge site (SI Tables S3 and S6)."

 

And then again later in the paper:

 

"However, our data show that the Ra likely does not remain in the liquid phase and flow downstream; instead, most of the Ra appears to be adsorbed and retained in river sediments near the discharge site. Because Ra adsorption increases with decreasing salinity (i.e., the dilution of dissolved salts),(29-31) the mixing of the saline wastewater effluents and upstream low-saline water apparently enhances Ra adsorption onto the sediments."

 

In other words, even though it is reduced and below the limits of what they can release, once released, it is concentrating in the environoment and so that's very likely causing problems.  It is sticking to the sediments and not being dilluted and so is creating areas of high radioactivity.  Which is an important point and a point they make 3 times in the paper.

Established thresholds for what?

 

For release by industrial plants like these, but the point is even though they are releasing low amounts if you do that day after day, and it then just goes out and sits in the area where they've released it that area become pretty radioactive.

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For release by industrial plants like these, but the point is even though they are releasing low amounts if you do that day after day, and it then just goes out and sits in the area where they've released it that area become pretty radioactive.

Didn't think they were measuring what the plant released. I thought they were measuring the creek as a whole, a ways downstream.

(Although the parts of your post that I trimmed out, seemed to refute my assumption).

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Didn't think they were measuring what the plant released. I thought they were measuring the creek as a whole, a ways downstream.

(Although the parts of your post that I trimmed out, seemed to refute my assumption).

 

Best guess is there is a pipe from the plant that sticks out over the stream and dumps out into it, and they are either wading up to the pipe or have a boat and taking some of the water directly out of the pipe as well as taking samples from the stream at various distances.

 

But they definitely are measuring things in the effluent from the plant based on what they've said.

 

I didn't read it close enough to figure out what their determination is that it is coming out reduced vs. what went in (e.g. how do they know what the plant took in to treat).

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certainly worth looking at, but probably more alarmist than anything

 

 

Five Facts About Duke’s Latest Anti-Shale Study

http://energyindepth.org/marcellus/five-facts-about-dukes-latest-anti-shale-study/

 

It's "funny" because none of those "facts" actually say the study is wrong, maybe faulty method—so you'd still be comfortable having that watershed feeding into your drinking water?

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I have only a very limited understanding of the issues surrounding this debate...but....this study doesn't appear to be a pro-or-con frakking issue, though, rather a wastewater treatment issue. 

 

 

The issue with frakking is whether or not the frakking causes releases, or other problems, under the ground, where treatment can't take place and it can get directly into the groundwater.

 

 

in this case it is the direct and controlled wastewater emmisions... the same issue you would have with a paper mill or a mecury proccessing plant, or whatever... If they are not treating their wastewater sufficiently to pass federal or local standards, make them do so.   But the frakking issue seems tangental here.   no?


an analogy:     if this plant was hiring slave labor from Burma... it would be a clear legal violation, and a huge black mark on teh company....but would it say anything about frakking?

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I have only a very limited understanding of the issues surrounding this debate...but....this study doesn't appear to be a pro-or-con frakking issue, though, rather a wastewater treatment issue.

I do think that's a valid point.

I'm a bit surprised that the article's claim that a company created for the purposes of treating waste products, and then dumping them in a creek, does not, apparently, have clear standard as to what they can or can't dump in the creek.

I would have thought that there were standards as to what anybody can dump in the creek, regardless of what industry they're cleaning up after. That, whether they're treating municipal sewage or processing nuclear reactor coolant or cleaning up the discharge from a paper mill, that the "what can and can't be dumped in the creek" would not only be spelled out, but would be identical, no matter what the waste was, when it went into the plant.

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I have only a very limited understanding of the issues surrounding this debate...but....this study doesn't appear to be a pro-or-con frakking issue, though, rather a wastewater treatment issue. 

 

 

The issue with frakking is whether or not the frakking causes releases, or other problems, under the ground, where treatment can't take place and it can get directly into the groundwater.

 

 

in this case it is the direct and controlled wastewater emmisions... the same issue you would have with a paper mill or a mecury proccessing plant, or whatever... If they are not treating their wastewater sufficiently to pass federal or local standards, make them do so.   But the frakking issue seems tangental here.   no?

an analogy:     if this plant was hiring slave labor from Burma... it would be a clear legal violation, and a huge black mark on teh company....but would it say anything about frakking?

 

There are two issues with fracking.

 

One is ground water contamination that would then affect local drinking water wells:

 

(http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4011724

 

Analyses revealed that arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 km of active natural gas wells. Lower levels of arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were detected at reference sites outside the Barnett Shale region as well as sites within the Barnett Shale region located more than 3 km from active natural gas wells. Methanol and ethanol were also detected in 29% of samples. Samples exceeding MCL levels were randomly distributed within areas of active natural gas extraction, and the spatial patterns in our data suggest that elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents, hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings.)

 

And that's possibly to do with things that are happening underground as you take the gas out and exert the pressure to get it out and releasing things that were in the soil (so hydrogeochemical changes and the like mentioned above) around the well into the local underground water aquaifer that feeds the local drinking wells (though there might be issues with contamination from the fluids that are injected which don't tend to be only water).

 

The other issue is that the water you inject into does tend to flow out and when it comes out it has issues (and isn't even water).  At first in many cases where fracking was happening this water was simply allowed to drain off (cheap and easy (and might still be happening in some places (I don't know)), then they started collecting and taking it to waste water sites (what this paper is about).

 

Oh and don't forget about the earthquakes.

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I live in PA and somewhat involved with local/state politics. Sat in on meetings with our State Senators and Representatives on a Marcellus Shale conference. One would love to think that the PA dept of environmental protection is completely independent and acts as oversight but, not saying they are in the back pocket at all, but their oversight can be characterized as less than rigorous. 

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I do think that's a valid point.

I'm a bit surprised that the article's claim that a company created for the purposes of treating waste products, and then dumping them in a creek, does not, apparently, have clear standard as to what they can or can't dump in the creek.

I would have thought that there were standards as to what anybody can dump in the creek, regardless of what industry they're cleaning up after. That, whether they're treating municipal sewage or processing nuclear reactor coolant or cleaning up the discharge from a paper mill, that the "what can and can't be dumped in the creek" would not only be spelled out, but would be identical, no matter what the waste was, when it went into the plant.

 

 

I agree, although I suppose another point would be :  if this is the best that the comapny can do with treating the RECOVERED (and treated) waste byproducts, then what is the stuff left under the ground like?  (presumably they don't get it all back to the surface for treatment)

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Much of it is just intellectually dishonest:

 

For example, they only sample right outside of the "tail pipe":

 

 

 

are you referring to this statement...."

 

 

FACT 2: Researchers took samples directly at the source.

As page S4 of the “Supplemental Information” section also reveals, the sample from 2012 with the highest reading for total dissolved solids (TDS) downstream was taken only one meter from the source. That’s like taking an air sample directly from the tailpipe of a car and declaring an air quality crisis.

What’s more is that the highest reading came from a sample in 2012, which we know was well after that facility stopped receiving Marcellus Shale wastewater. The second highest reading, taken only 10 meters downstream, was also from a 2012 sample.

Meanwhile, the researchers failed to take samples from areas actually near water intake facilities. Needless to say, there were also no tests done on the drinking water that was processed from those facilities. If this study were truly motivated by public health concerns – and not simply delivering the prescribed headlines – then wouldn’t you expect the researchers to test the water that folks are actually going to be consuming?

 

It does not say what you posted and in fact notes samples further away, as well as the lack of upstream ones

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