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Study Says Fracking Fluid Kills Vegetation

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A U.S. Forest Service researcher published a study that shows water used in hydraulic fracturing kills vegetation on contact. Mary Beth Adams began the field study by applying 303,000 liters of fracking fluid from a natural gas well onto an area of forest in West Virginia. Adams’ study revealed water used during natural gas drilling kills vegetation on contact, almost immediately, and also kills ground covers, plants and trees.

Based on this observation, Adams is certain the “energy source [fracking fluid] is dangerous to the environment” including wildlife and humans, reported the Examiner.

Her study called “Land Application of Hydrofracturing Fluids Damages a Deciduous Forest Stand in West Virginia” was published in the July-August issue of Journal of Environmental Quality. It focuses on the impact of 75,000 gallons of fracking fluids legally released from a well spread on the ground of Fernow Experimental Forest. The quarter-acre studied was not a part of the Marcellus Shale, a formation estimated to be one of the richest sources of natural gas on the planet. Geologists estimate the formation is the largest reservoir in the U.S. and the second-largest in the world.

According to the Examiner, Adams’ study is one-of-a-kind since it is the first study that specifically focuses on the effects of fracking fluids.

Adams’ research report says “during application, severe damage and mortality of ground vegetation was observed.”

The report also reveals the “plant die-off began on contact” and within two days all ground plants were dead. Additionally, following 10 days, leaves of the trees began to brown and after two years, over half of roughly 150 trees in the forest were dead.

Adams claims the concentrations of sodium chloride were 50 times higher than normal in the soil after the fracking fluid was applied. Although the area did not include the Marcellus Shale, the “general salinity of flow-back fluids are the same for conventional wells and Marcellus wells” therefore fluid from the infamous formation would also result in dead vegetation, says Adams.

Those who support natural gas drilling try to discredit Adams’ findings by saying the scenario tested is “simply not practicable,” said Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Creighton criticizes Adams’ test by noting that the salt water was only applied to a small concentrated area and left to sit for two years with no remediation or containment. However, if an actual well spill occurred and flow-back was released, gas companies would contain the flow and remediate the impacted area(s) within hours.

However, Adams contends industry officials told her they would have used an area three to five times larger but there is no scientific data to support fracking fluid does not impact vegetation.

In her report, Adams insists West Virginia law should change from the current standard based on the concentration of salts in the fluid to one based on the dosage of salts per acre of land, says the Examiner.

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