Disposal of hydraulic fracturing wastewater biggest possible contaminator

Current wastewater disposal methods for water used in hydraulic fracturing could put nearby drinking water in the Marcellus Shale at risk, according to a study issued on Tuesday.

Hydraulic fracturing, a process where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under high pressure, could be polluting nearby surface water sources through five different ways, according to a Stony Brook University study.

The study found water could be contaminated by transportation spills, well casing leaks, leaks through fractured rock, drilling site surface discharge and wastewater disposal. The greatest contamination risks came from wasterwater disposal.

“The used hydraulic fracturing fluid is transported to a wastewater treatment facility and discharged to streams,” according to the report. The researchers said those treatment facilities may not be equipped to handle the chemicals found in the used fracking wasterwater, leading to contaminated drinking water if it is released into nearby water sources, according to the report.

A few well operators recycle hydraulic fracturing fluids, but its higher costs have prevented it from being widely used.

Hydraulic fracturing has faced heavy criticism from environmentalists who claim the process can cause earthquakes, pollute air and can contaminate drinking water supplies. The industry has routinely disputed those claims, saying the process is safe.

The Stony Brook study recommended further study of how industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants could remove contaminants from used hydraulic fracturing fluids. It also suggests that various alternative approaches to hydraulic fracturing, such as nitrogen-based or liquefied petroleum gas fracturing, be explored by regulators, in order to reduce the wastewater usage.