Monday, May 7, 2012

Fracking Wastewater Disposal Is Complicated

Most of New York State’s drilling waste is sent to sewage-treatment
 plants within the state, like the one in Auburn, N.Y
Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times
A Niagara Falls water utility wanted to treat toxic waste from natural-gas drilling at its sewage-treatment plant once hydrofracking gets under way in New York State. But in a unanimous vote, the Niagara Falls City Council blocked the plan this spring by banning the treatment, transport, storage and disposal of drilling fluids within city limits.

The thought of having fracking fluids trucked into the city, treated and discharged into the Niagara River frightened local residents, many of whom still recall the Love Canal environmental crisis of the 1970s.

As New York State environmental regulators fine-tune proposed rules governing horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial natural-gas extraction process, wastewater has emerged as a challenging issue for the industry and regulators.

The drilling involves injecting vast amounts of water and chemicals into underground shale to release the gas. Should it begin in New York, the gas wells could generate hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater annually, and it is not clear where it could go.

Federal officials have warned that New York should not count on the disposal options that it now uses for salty wastewater from conventional gas wells, which produce far less waste than fracking.

Most of the state’s conventional drilling waste stays in New York and is sent to sewage-treatment plants like one in Auburn, N.Y., near Syracuse or is used to de-ice roads or tamp down dust on them, state regulators said. The state also sends waste to privately owned treatment plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In written comments on New York’s proposed fracking rules, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has said that the state should ban the use of fracking brine on roads because pollutants could make their way into aquifers and waterways through infiltration and storm runoff.

The agency also warned that there was probably not enough capacity at out-of-state treatment plants to handle polluted water from New York.

The E.P.A. is currently working on national pretreatment standards for waste headed for municipal sewage-treatment plants or private treatment plants, after finding that many of them are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater and may be discharging pollutants to rivers and other streams.

Building new treatment plants for the fracking industry is another option, but industry representatives say that doing so would depend on whether the investment makes economic sense. Complicating matters, antifracking sentiment has already led to dozens of bans or limits on fracking-related operations, like the measure in Niagara Falls.

The state environmental agency has already made clear that specific disposal plans must be in place before any drilling permits will be issued — and that finding sites will be up to the gas industry. (NYT, 5/3/2012)

1 comment:

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