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We’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

We’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

On so many issues, California is the green leader, showing other states how it should be done better. But better is not necessarily the same thing as flawless. Right now, California is doing a better job of regulating fracking than any other state that allows it — but, of course, many local activists would rather the state just banned it, as New York has.

The federal government doesn’t require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their operations, and it has failed to produce data on the safety of fracking. Five years after the U.S. EPA announced plans to study fracking’s effect on drinking water, industry resistance has thwarted the effort. It’s up to states to require fracking operations to disclose what chemicals they are using and to find out if those chemicals are getting into the public water supply when frackers inject their wastewater underground. Most state governments, beholden to fossil fuel interests, aren’t doing this.

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and setting up monitoring for air and water quality near unconventional drilling sites. No other state has adopted as comprehensive a system for finding out what’s actually in fracking wastewater. California environmental activists worry, though, that the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting against the adverse impacts of fracking, from polluting neighbors’ water and air to triggering increased seismic activity.

Still, information is better than nothing. On Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group released a report reviewing California’s implementation of the fracking disclosure law and what it has found. The group points out, “Because California is the only state to require comprehensive chemical testing of drilling wastes and public disclosure of the results, the findings also provide a unique window into what chemicals likely contaminate fracking wastewater nationwide.”

The good news is that California’s aquifers used for drinking water have not been contaminated by fracking wastewater — at least not that we know of yet. But the risk remains. Just last week, the state stopped some drilling because it was threatening drinking water sources. And yesterday, California officials admitted to an angry state Senate panel that they had not been effectively protecting water sources from fracking pollution. As the L.A. Times reports, “for years [state regulators] inadvertently allowed oil companies to inject wastewater — from fracking and other oil production operations — into hundreds of disposal wells in protected aquifers, a violation of federal law.”

Meanwhile, the really bad news is what’s in the fracking wastewater: a carcinogenic soup full of volatile organic compounds that have been associated elsewhere with an array of unpleasant health effects. We damn well don’t want this stuff anywhere near our drinking water. From the report:

Petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids, are among the pollutants found in fracking wastewater samples tested under the new disclosure program.They include benzene, chromium-6, lead and arsenic — all listed under California’s Proposition 65 as causes of cancer or reproductive harm. Nearly every one of the 293 samples tested contained benzene at levels ranging from twice to more than 7,000 times the state drinking water standard. The wastewater also carried, on average, thousands of times more radioactive radium than the state’s public health goals consider safe, as well as elevated levels of potentially harmful ions such as nitrate and chloride.

In addition to the universal presence of benzene, the neurotoxin toluene was detected in 83 percent of samples. As residents of fracked communities can tell you, living near a gas well with those chemicals in the air may cause health problems from headaches and nausea to benign and malignant tumors.

While the information being provided in California is valuable — and worryingly absent elsewhere — the disclosure law isn’t being fully implemented. EWG found several shortcomings in the online database maintained by the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). There are discrepancies in the approach to sampling and chemical analyses, and 31 records are missing.

EWG also finds that DOGGR is too slow to perform the analyses and that it isn’t collecting enough information about where the wastewater is dumped. That last point is especially critical. If fracking wastewater gets into the water supply, having good information about where it was dumped in the first place would be essential to responding. EWG writes, “As of January 2015, chemical analyses of wastewater from more than 100 fracking jobs completed in early 2014 were incomplete, listed as pending as much as a full year after the wells were fracked. … Drillers do not have to specify the exact injection well or sump pond where wastewater produced from a job was discarded. If a water supply is contaminated, this information would be key to identifying the company responsible.”

This is far from the first time DOGGR’s failures have been pointed out. In October, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on similar problems, such as oil companies submitting incomplete reports. Of course, if DOGGR got any more information, it would be even more overwhelmed. “The regulators,” the Chronicle writes, “don’t have enough staff to process all the reports they’ve received.” It doesn’t help that, according to state Sen. Fran Pavley (D), “DOGGR personnel continue to ignore the law and regulations.”

This is all another reminder that when it comes to protecting the public from rapacious corporations, passing a law is not the end of the struggle but just the beginning.

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Source: Grist




Columbus Dispatch

By Laura Arenschield The Columbus Dispatch  •  Friday March 13, 2015 8:14 PM

Some fighting state proposal on disclosure of fracking chemicals

Environmental groups, people who live in Ohio’s oil-and-gas country, and some emergency responders say that a proposal by Gov. John Kasich to filter information about chemicals used in fracking activities through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources could leave firefighters without what they need during an emergency.

The department, some groups and residents argued this week before state legislators, already has proved it can’t get that information to the people who need it when a fracking site catches fire. And that worries people who live near oil and gas sites.

Firefighters, not the Department of Natural Resources, should have that chemical information, residents testified this week.

Amanda Kiger, a Columbiana County resident who testified before an Ohio House of Representatives subcommittee this week, said she lives near a hazardous-waste incinerator that is scheduled to start taking fracking waste soon.

“If any volunteer fireman or EMT would have to respond to an accident regarding the frack waste, they would not know the chemicals they are walking into,” Kiger said. “I would like to know that our first responders have knowledge of the chemicals they are dealing with.”

But the Department of Natural Resources and representatives of the oil and gas industry say passing that information through the department would actually make it more accessible.

Kiger and others who testified at the Statehouse this week were commenting on Kasich’s two-year, $72.3 billion budget proposal, released earlier this year. It includes lines that say oil and gas companies must submit information about the chemicals they are using to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which in turn must make that information available to firefighters and other emergency responders.

The language seems to be almost a direct response to communication issues that arose after a chemical fire on an eastern Ohio fracking site last summer.

When the fire occurred on June 28 in Monroe County, firefighters who responded didn’t have immediate access to a list of chemicals onsite. And an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency emergency responder couldn’t get that list from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Not long after the fire, Gov. John Kasich told The Dispatch that it would be unacceptable for emergency responders, including federal and Ohio EPA officials, not to know the full list of chemicals from the site.

The language in Kasich’s budget could change that, if the department makes good on its promise to make sure chemical information from oil and gas sites is really available and accessible.

Eric Heis, a Department of Natural Resources spokesman, said the department will do that. Heis said more chemical information would be reported, and that chemical information would be available more quickly, if this language passes.

“We’re pushing for more disclosure,” Heis said. “We want to make it better, and to make it more transparent and accessible. There’s nothing we gain by hiding any chemical disclosures. We want everyone to know what it is.”

The department, though, has been criticized by environmental groups for being too cozy with the oil and gas industry.

“We have a legitimate cause for concern is how I would put it, given the handling of the Monroe County incident and the chemical fire there, and ODNR holding onto chemical information and not sharing it in a timely manner with other agencies that needed it,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group.

“I think that’s the crux or big points of our argument, is that this information should be in the hands of the local firefighters, because those are the folks who are trained in emergency response and emergency planning.”

Kasich’s office referred questions to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Enlarge Image Request to buy this photoAdam Cairns | DispatchCharred trucks and equipment at the scene of the June 28 chemical fire at the StatOil North America well pad.


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