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EPA Plans to Set Standards for Fracking Wastewater

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This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that it wants increased oversight of the hydraulic fracturing (fracturing) industry by setting national standards for fracking wastewater, the polluted wastewater that results from natural gas extraction.

Fracking activities are on the rise in recent years and involve a process by which a combination of water, chemicals, and sand are injected deep into shale formations to unlock gas. Environmental advocates and experts have criticized the process, arguing that fracking leads to earthquakes and increased seismic activity; devastates the environment and human, aquatic, and wildlife health; pollutes water supplies; and ravages infrastructures, to name just a few.

In light of the ongoing controversy, the EPA said it will draft fracking wastewater standards due out in 2014, said Bloomberg Businessweek, which explained that fracking wastewater is briny, chemical water released from wells. Drillers would be required to meet certain standards before sending the waste to treatment plants.

According to industry, it has been recycling the wastewater or injecting it back into the ground; however, some is sent to plants not able to remove its contaminants, noted Businessweek. According to the EPA, the new standards would also apply to coal bed methane drilling wastewater.

“We can protect the health of American families and communities at the same time we ensure access to all of the important resources that make up our energy economy.
The American people expect and deserve nothing less,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Businessweek reported. Up until now, the EPA has left fracking regulation to individual states. Meanwhile, the EPA is conducting a nationwide study of the short- and long-term impacts of fracking to groundwater and drinking water.

“The nation is in the midst of a fracking-fueled gas rush which is generating toxic wastewater faster than treatment plants can handle it,” Earthjustice lawyer Deborah Goldberg said. “The EPA’s proposal is a common sense solution for this growing public health problem and will help keep poisons out of our rivers, streams, and drinking water,” she added, wrote Businessweek.

Industry, not unexpectedly disagrees, but Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s administration pointed out that while drillers have broadened recycling efforts, many are unable to adequately remove contaminants and have been polluting area waterways.

Earlier this year, Governor Corbett’s office mandated drillers stop sending millions of barrels of wastewater to treatment plants that are able to remove some, but not all, contaminants. In the recent past, those plants were releasing the polluted water into area rivers, said Businessweek.

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