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New York Ponders Disposal of Fracking Wastewater

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Fracking wastewater disposal appears to be a key issue in the debate over whether or not to approve natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region of New York. The wastewater that would be produced as a result of the drilling raises important environmental and health concerns, as fracking wastewater is contaminated with significant amounts of hazardous chemicals. Hydrofracking itself has often been the subject of environmental debate. Hydrofracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process that extracts natural gas trapped within rock formations. In the Northeast, proponents of hydrofracking are particularly interested in the Marcellus Shale region. This black shale formation

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extends from New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio and is as deep as 7,000 feet below the ground surface. In order to extract the gas, wells are drilled deep into the ground and the rocks are fractured. If approved, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says that drilling will likely take place in areas where the Marcellus Shale is at least 2,000 feet deep. To facilitate fracturing, large volumes of water, a slew of chemicals, and a propping material (often sand) are applied under high pressure to obtain the maximum amount of gas. This resulting waste product is millions of gallons of water that is likely contaminated with carcinogens. The concern over fracking wastewater came to the forefront in the state last May, when significant amounts of methane was found in some private drinking wells located in northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. By testing drinking wells located within one kilometer of drill sites, A Duke University study was able to prove that local drinking water was in fact contaminated with methane byproducts from the Marcellus Shale. Scientific American reports that the methane concentrations in these nearby wells were 17 times higher than those further away. The average methane concentration in these wells was 19 mg per liter. To put this into perspective, the U.S. Department of the Interior recommends methane levels to be no greater than 10 mg per liter. One well had a concentration of 64 mg per liter. So far, there are 3 main options with regards to wastewater disposal. One option is to transport the water to a treatment facility. After being treated, this water would then be released into a body of water or reused. Another option is to transport the wastewater out of the state and inject it deep underground. Yet another alternative would be to recycle and reuse the water on site. As legislation ponders these options, some environmental advocates still show concern. Kate Sinding, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Associated Press “All of those options have impacts; none of them is particularly benign”. She pointed out that “What’s missing in the DEC review is, what’s the impact of each available technology? They shouldn’t be deciding on treatment options when issuing permits until they have the science on the impact of each option.” In addition to these issues, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also noted that hydraulic fracturing can harm the environment via volatile organic compounds, green house gases and air pollutants.

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