Ian Urbina of the New York Times wrote an article Tuesday on wastewater disposal from hydrofracking, a technique that uses high-pressure water to break apart underground shale and release natural gas stored in the rocks. This is the method featured in the documentary Gasland, which was nominated this year for an Academy Award.
As drilling for natural gas started to climb sharply about 10 years ago, energy companies faced mounting criticism over an extraction process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground for each well and can leave significant amounts of hazardous contaminants in the water that comes back to the surface.
As a result of public pressure, gas extraction companies have turned to recycling to dispose of the wastewater from fracking. However, much of the waste still finds its way into groundwater:
In Pennsylvania, for example, natural-gas companies recycled less than half of the wastewater they produced during the 18 months that ended in December, according to state records.
Urbina says that significant health risks remain:
Nor has recycling eliminated environmental and health risks. Some methods can leave behind salts or sludge highly concentrated with radioactive material and other contaminants that can be dangerous to people and aquatic life if they get into waterways.
The free market solution? Sell the waste:
Some well operators are also selling their waste, rather than paying to dispose of it. Because it is so salty, they have found ready buyers in communities that spread it on roads for de-icing in the winter and for dust suppression in the summer. When ice melts or rain falls, the waste can run off roads and end up in the drinking supply.