Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Little Regulation of PA Gas Well Waste

Are PA gas wells tainting our water?

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and other parts of the country’s drinking water may become affected by gas well drilling waste water says a recent New York Times Article. Read the complete article here.

As a result of new drilling techniques, Pennsylvania drilling companies are now able unlock the enormous deposits of natural gas. The benefits however- cleaner energy for the next hundred years- comes with a price tag. The new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — poses significant risks to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania’s environment.

The Times article notes that hydrofracking, produces millions of gallons of wastewater that is full of highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. The waste is exacerbated by carcinogenic materials that are often added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

Recent documents uncovered by reporters from The Times, from the Environmental Protection Agency, reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, 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.

Most alarming for residents of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as a whole is that “many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.”

What I found disturbing in this article is that the EPA is doing little and currently most treatment plants in Pennsylvania are allowed to accept drilling waste without having to test for radioactivity. The matter is compounded by the fact that “most drinking-water intake plants downstream from [these] sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.“

Put more simply, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water in the parts of Pennsylvania served by these water treatment plants is safe.

The Time article notes that “the risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up from about 36,000 in 2000. The level of radioactivity in the wastewater has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water.”

In Pennsylvania, “sewage treatment plant operators say they are far less capable of removing radioactive contaminants than most other toxic substances.” Sadly, most of the facilities in Pennsylvania cannot remove enough of the radioactive material to meet federal drinking-water standards before discharging the wastewater into rivers, sometimes just miles upstream from drinking-water intake plants.”

This report reminds me a lot of the water contamination case in Woburn, Massachusetts that was the subject of the book A Civil Action. In that book, one of the primary defendants, Beatrice, ultimately escaped liability due to the plaintiffs’ inability to show that contamination near one part of a river migrated into the plaintiffs’ drinking water. It will be interesting to see what litigation arises out of Pennsylvania’s Gas Well situation. Hopefully none as that will mean that someone has been injured by what is occurring. But from the blind eye that seems to be turning from the waste disposal methods going on currently, I think large-scale personal injury lawsuits are only a matter of time. I have not read anything that discusses what particular health conditions people drinking the contaminated water are more likely to develop. I foresee the causal connection between the injuries and waste water deposited being the most contested issue when this matter comes to the courts. Share this post :
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1 comment:

  1. i know one thing dat needz gas regulation...B after pounding a 40 and a 7-11 chilli dog!!!