PA Frack Wastewater To Get “Full Treatment”

Exactly how industrial gas drillers are required to recycle frack wastewater will make all the difference when it comes to the safety of municipal drinking water supplies.

As of now, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Industrial Gas Drillers are no longer disposing of untreated wastewater in Pennsylvania facilities that discharge into rivers and streams. This is “big” indeed. Gas Drillers must either re-use the water they pull from local aquifers to frack another well, or they must recycle it. So how, exactly, does an industrial gas driller “recycle” millions of gallons of produced, toxic wastewater?

Out of 680 million gallons of frack wastewater produced in 2010, 320 gallons were reportedly recycled, but 260 million gallons were sent to area water treatment plants, like the one in Williamsport PA. The rest, in the form of highly toxic and radioactive sludge, was either transported by fleets of tanker trucks out of state, or injected into one of Pennsylvania’s handful of injection wells – basically, underground toxic waste reservoirs. At least 50 million additional gallons of frack flowback went unaccounted for in 2010, according to state records.

Much of the produced wastewater is now stored in open, double-lined, bermed-up pools where it evaporates methane and formaldehyde into the air until it is used in another frack. Or it is run through a Mobile Distillation Unit on-site before being trucked to a municipal sewage treatment facility. Or it is trucked to a dedicated treatment facility and then sent to the municipal plant.

Eureka has a plant running that treats drilling wastewater for metals plus total dissolved solids to Safe Drinking Water Act standards. It has been running for more than a year. Eureka intends to build 2 more plants. There are now at least 5 other plants that treat water for recycling and reuse. Source: John Hanger,

At first blush, recycling frack flowback – both onsite and in plants – seems like a solid idea. It certainly reduces the amount of water the industry uses, but drillers will still need to pull very large, and controversial, amounts in their initial water withdrawals. And recycling “produced water” doesn’t really make the problem of toxic waste go away. When frack flowback is distilled, and all of the toxins and dissolved solids and radionuclides are completely and effectively removed, we’re left with tons of frack brine – the super-salty, slightly radioactive sludge that is leftover.

Where Does Frack Brine Go?

PA Taxpayers Buy Frack Brine for 5¢ a Gallon So Townships Can Spray on Roads
Frack Flowback Recycling involves taking tens of thousands of gallons of initial flowback and distilling it down to a concentrated, salty “brine.” Frack brine is then sent to disposal sites out of state, or it is sold at $.05 a gallon to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to spray on our roads for de-icing in winter, and something called “dust suppression.” Seriously, dust suppression. So now this stuff is on your jogging shoes and the wheels of the kids’ bikes? Spring soakers carry these toxic compounds into rivers and streams, lacing our fresh waterways with: barium, radium, strontium, and a range other radionuclides – sometimes even uranium. (Yes, there’s uranium down there, too.) What’s more, we’re paying for it!

Our recent household tap water test showed elevated “but still safe” levels of Barium and Radium 222, and we don’t live anywhere near a drilling site. Of course, these could be naturally occurring, however, it appears I’m not the only one with my eye trained on the data.

In April, fourteen area water treatment plants in our area decided to test above and beyond Federal requirements. Aqua PA-Emlenton. Authority of the Borough of Charleroi, Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, Brackenridge Borough Water Department, Buffalo Township Municipal Authority, Midland Borough Municipal Authority, Newell Municipal Authority, Pennsylvania American Water Company-Clarion, Pennsylvania American Water Company-Pittsburgh, Tri County Joint Municipal Authority, United Water, West View Borough Municipal Authority, and Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority    SOURCE: John Hanger,

It would appear, the Corbett Administration is motivated to revise the Oil and Gas Act with all due haste. And Pennsylvania is poised to allow drillers to pump far greater volumes of a frightful array of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and other pollutants, plus loads of sand, down deep into the land. And when it blasts back up at extremely high pressure, we expect the Drillers to capture, store and process every last drop with machines from companies like Seimans, Aquatech, AquaPure, Rolco and the like, before they pour it back into our public water systems.

I’d like to vote “NO” to that plan!

Clearly, I’m not the only one who loves a genuinely clean tubby, heated by a renewable source that truly sustains my water purity – like hydro or solar. The Corbett Administration’s drilling frenzy continues to place the importance of one of our most essential resources, water, below that of profits from fossil fuel extraction.

We need a statewide referendum on Fresh Water Protection. We once had robust Safe Drinking Water laws, and we tend to expect stringent oversight from our government. I respectfully question the ability of one state agency to deliver it.

Recycled frack brine or not, Pennsylvania is arguably in the throws of the world’s second largest fossil fuel pickle.

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