PROBLEMS WITH FRACK WASTE WATER by Richard Ashton

                   New Environment Bulletin Number 387

Syracuse, N.Y (June 27, 2011)

It is possible that either The Wyoming Valley Sanitation Authority (WVSA) or The Lower Lackawanna Sanitation Authority (LLSA) will  build a treatment plant for hydraulic fracturing (frack) waste water, adding to their existing facility. WVSA is  adjoining Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a block away from the Carey Avenue Bridge, and LLSA is in Duryea, both on the Susquehanna River. Either one or both of these plants could  treat a large proportion  of the  frack water from Northeastern Pennsylvania and South Eastern New York.

WVSA has looked into this possibility carefully and has dropped plans for now mainly because of the truck traffic it would cause in residential neighborhoods. If either of these plants treat frack water in the future, it may be transported to these plants on 5000 gallon tanker trucks at the rate of one truck every five minutes, maybe day and night. Indeed a million gallons of frack water a day could be coming to Wyoming Valley. And what is in this water? This is how Dr.  Thomas Jiunta1 describes the chemicals added to the water:

“over 300 of them in an average fracking solution, have been revealed by scientists, to be at least 75 percent hazardous to our health, including many cancer-causing substances. Not only are the additives carcinogenic and proven endocrine disrupters, but unfortunately the fracturing process causes normally underground toxic organic and inorganic substances and heavy metals to come to the surface. These include volatile organic solvents naturally found underground such as the methane extracted and also compounds, such as benzene, toluene and propane. They also include heavy metals which are trapped in the shale and are then soluble in the mixture that comes back up including: Lead, arsenic, mercury, barium, chromium and strontium. In addition, brine is extracted which ranges from sea water type salinity to six times this salinity. Radioactive elements which are normally found under ground, are brought up.”

With all of those trucks passing through towns in the valley for decades into the future, there are bound to be leaks, spills and catastrophic crashes. In addition we need to guard against air pollution from the water being processed at the our local sanitation authorities.  Laura Legere, Staff Writer for the Citizen’s Voice2 reported:  “a centralized impoundment that holds the waste water from 10 wells could theoretically release 32.5 tons of methanol into the air each year – meaning it could qualify as a “major” source of toxic air pollutants under federal rules.” We can expect that waste water from many more than ten wells will be held at the treatment facility, and so we are threatened by toxic air pollution in the Wyoming Valley.

The function of the treatment plant at our sanitation authorities would be to separate chemicals from the frack water, and then ship it back to be reused in the drilling operations. The sediment from this process will contain these hazardous chemicals. According to published reports the plan is to deposit the sediment in state approved land fills. These chemicals such as elements arsenic, cadmium and radium last for thousands of years, while a typical land fill holds waste for only twenty years, after which it leaks into the environment.  Thus the land fill solution to waste storage may be only temporary, and future generations will be saddled with our waste again. To illustrate this issue consider radium.

Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D.3 studied the radioactivity on rock pieces in the flow back from drilling operations and concluded the following:
* Radioactivity in Marcellus is 20 times higher than background.
* Radium-226 is soluble in water and is in waste water
* Drilling fluid is reused many times and some Radium-226 can accumulate each time.
* Ra-226 is a carcinogen so causes cancer.
* This could cause landfill workers to be exposed.
* 1600 years is the half-life of Ra-226,

Since the radioactivity of individual trucks may be below the ability of landfill radiation  detectors to measure, large amounts of radio activity in the waste may not be detected until they build up over time in the landfill.

Resnikoff further concludes:

Workers at a landfill where drill cuttings are dumped can be expected to exceed the health-base dose limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the NRC.

Based on calculations radiation exposures received by a future resident farmer of the land at the landfill will exceed allowable regulatory limits.

Radioactive scale cuttings and fluids are more appropriately deposited in a radioactive land fill  designated for this disposal.

Thus we can conclude that the typical land fill with a 20 year lifetime may be inadequate to protect the environment from these hazardous and radioactive chemicals. Resnikoff recommends use of a nuclear waste land fill which is designed to hold for 1000 years. (Is that enough time, given a 1600 year half-life of the radium?)   Also the constantly reused frack water can be expected to become increasingly radioactive. Indeed radioactivity in the truck parts, in particular in rust builds up over time, so that the drivers may become increasingly threatened with excess radiation exposure and may need to be considered nuclear hazardous material workers and regulated as such.

In conclusion, if we get to the point of having a million gallons per day of  Marcellus Shale drilling waste water processed in the valley, we will need to take many precautions to avoid its health and environmental threats.

References:
(1) “Letter to the Editor”,  Thomas Jiunta  Wilkes-Barre, PA: Citizens Voice (May 13, 2010)
(2) “Wastewater: A risky business”   Laura Legere (Staff Writer) Wilkes-Barre: Citizen’s Voice,  June 22, 2010.
(3) “Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale,” Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D., 526 W. 26th Street #517, New York, NY 10001 : Radioactive Waste Management Associates, (May 19, 2010).
See also:  “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement On The Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Regulatory Program” NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Mineral Resources, Bureau of Oil & Gas Regulation 652 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Albany, NY 9 (September, 2009).

Richard Aston
Registered Engineer
astonrj@yahoo.com
Wilkes-Barre, PA
June 1, 2011

One Response to PROBLEMS WITH FRACK WASTE WATER by Richard Ashton

  1. Gregory says:

    Fracking waste water contains hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, asthma and other health problems. The companies should pay to clean this up.

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