Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frack Science

On February 27 2011 the New York Times published an expose on hydraulic fracturing. The article was splashed across headlines across the web, print and television.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A.and a confidential studyby the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

In other words, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water taken in by all these plants is safe. (emphasis mine)

The only problem was a lack of data to support the claims. Only grave suspicions and worry by regulators and scientists.

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania American Water Company released the results of a study to put those claims to rest. The conclusions drawn from the study was that Pennsylvania water is safe, in spite of fracking.

Pennsylvania American Water Statement:

No detectable levels of radiological contaminates or volatile organic compounds found at Pennsylvania American Water intakes along the Allegheny, Clarion, Monogahela rivers and Two Lick creek.

Following a full battery of tests at Pennsylvania American Water’s raw water intakes along the Allegheny, Clarion and Monongahela Rivers and Two Lick Creek, in Indiana, PA, the company found no elevated or harmful levels of radiological contaminants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or inorganic compounds (IOCs). The results confirmed that the quality of the water supplied by Pennsylvania American Water's treatment plants has not been impacted by radioactive materials, VOCs or IOCs from Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater.


Story picked up by MSNBC

John Hanger wonders if the NYT will put these results above the fold in tomorrow's edition?

In other news environmental groups call for all sewer plant operations to be suspended after a government operated treatment plant collapsed dumping nearly 600,000 gallons of partially raw sewage into the Susquehanna River Monday morning, endangering the drinking water supply of millions of New York and Pennsylvania residents.

About two weeks ago I commented on the result of a water study coming out of Duke University that showed that methane was found to be significantly higher in fresh water samples taken within a 1000 meters of natural gas drilling sites. My contention was that the headline everyone took from this study was all wrong. That methane is a know contaminate. It's what the study didn't find that is important, that is no evidence of frack fluid! Turns out I am not the only one making this argument.

From the Times and Transcript:

A new U.S. study that has been described as the first to link natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with water contamination is actually being hailed as good news by all sides of the New Brunswick shale gas exploration debate.

The study, released last Tuesday by Duke University, draws its results from the testing of 68 water wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling areas in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York state. Out of the 60 that were tested for dissolved gas, those nearest to gas wells had on average 17 times the levels of methane compared to wells further from active drilling. Researchers noted that in some instances, the levels of methane were so high that they witnessed contaminated water being set alight.

But Tom Alexander, general manager of New Brunswick operations for SWN Resources Canada, said that the study confirms what his company has said all along: that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is not the danger, but rather the failure to follow drilling regulations.

"This is actually good news for the industry and for New Brunswick," he said."One of the study's researchers said it themselves that they found no fracture fluids in the wells tested. The issue is not fracking, but proper wellbore construction. Without proprer construction, the methane could be leaking around the wellbore." (emphasis mine)

And just for fun. Much has been made about the amount of water used in the hydrofracking process, but if you run some numbers things come into a little perspective. "At its peak, gas industry would use two minutes' worth of water that day." Based on Susquehanna River gps flow into Chesapeake Bay.

Regardless, if you want to stick with the using up all the water argument, fine. There is a better way to frack and soon the industry will move to a more efficient method using gelled liquid petroleum and eliminate the water controversy all together.Please bookmark!

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