Radioactive fracking wastes threaten drinking water
Published Mar 19, 2011 10:22 AM
A three-part New York Times series (Feb. 28-March 4) on the danger of
wastewater from natural gas drilling being discharged into rivers upstream from
drinking water intake plants cited Pennsylvania’s lax control over
drilling as a major problem. Rather than ratcheting up oversight, however,
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett claims that regulation of the industry has been
Corporate Corbett’s response was to select gas industry executive C. Alan
Walker to oversee the state’s environmental permitting process. Walker,
who is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal and who owns
or has interest in 12 other companies, including a central Pennsylvania oil and
gas company, has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since
“Toxic Tom” Corbett’s open support for the natural gas
industry prompted one contributor to the on-line, anti-drilling Susquehanna
County Gas Forum to suggest that politicians should be required to wear patches
on their suits showing their corporate sponsors, just like race car drivers.
“Just imagine how differently some politicians’ speeches would play
if they were wearing patches for Chesapeake, Monsanto, etc., while they were
talking,” the writer noted.
Despite his company’s history of running up against the state’s
environmental regulations, Walker was Corbett’s first appointee last
December to lead the Department of Economic Development.
Reporting on the appointment, ProPublica noted that “a paragraph tucked
into [Corbett’s] 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority
to ‘expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the
creation of jobs may be impacted.’ That includes, presumably, coal, oil,
gas and trucking.” (March 9)
In his budget address Corbett also announced the creation of a Marcellus Shale
Advisory Commission that would include Walker as well as executives from
ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron and members of the pro-drilling
Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Corbett’s budget proposes not only draconian cuts in funding for
education and community economic development but reductions in funding for
environmental oversight. It contains no provisions for a severance tax on gas
drillers and no increases in drilling permit fees or fines for environmental
damages stemming from drilling.
Corbett says he wants to make Pennsylvania “the Texas of the natural gas
boom.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 9) Given Texas’ history of lax
oversight of gas industries drilling in the Barnett Shale, this does not bode
well for Pennsylvanians.
Nationally, more than 10,000 wells have been drilled in urban areas, many near
schools and residential centers in Fort Worth, Texas, where 25 percent of
children have asthma compared to 7 percent statewide. Texas state environmental
inspectors are linked to the gas and oil industries controlling that
Danger of radioactivity in drinking water
The New York Times series by Ian Urbana was based on thousands of internal
documents from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and
drillers. They show that the dangers to the environment and health posed by
fracking are greater than previously understood.
Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) involves the high-pressure injection of
millions of gallons of salty, chemically laden water deep into underground
fissures in the shale area to force natural gas to the surface. The wastewater
that returns to the surface from fracking contains radioactive materials such
as uranium and radium that occur naturally in deep rock formations.
Natural gas drilling companies are exempt from many of the federal
environmental laws written to protect air and drinking water from radioactive
and hazardous chemicals.
The documents, according to the Times, revealed that the wastewater from this
process is often hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and is then
discharged into rivers that supply drinking water. The Times stated that the
wastewater “contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously
known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for
these treatment plants to handle.”
The Times found “never-reported studies by the EPA and a confidential
study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in
drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other
Wastewater from more than 116 wells had radiation levels 100 times federal
drinking-water standards. Wastewater from 15 had more than 1,000 times the
amount of acceptable radioactive elements. In 2009 and 2010, public sewage
treatment plants upstream from drinking-water intake facilities accepted
wastewater with radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times acceptable
While more oversight is clearly needed, state and federal budget cuts in
funding for environmental oversight, along with attempts to further weaken
existing regulatory legislation, only add to the problem that grows worse as
more and more wells are drilled.
The Times’ series, coupled with Corbett’s openly promoting industry
interests, is fueling renewed calls for a complete moratorium on drilling in
Pennsylvania as well as demands for Toxic Tom’s recall.
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