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Fracking’s expensive toxic water problem

The process of hydraulically fracturing shale rock in order to recover oil and gas depends upon access to vast quantities of water.  Fracturing a single well can involve pumping as much as six million gallons of water – together with toxic fracking fluids (the exact content of which is considered a trade secret) – into a single well.  This, in and of itself, creates problems for UK frackers who will need to tap into the public water supply – something unlikely to go down well on the eastern side of the British Isles where drought and hosepipe bans are a common feature of the summer months.

However, an even greater problem results from the need to safely dispose of the waste water – up to 2.5 million gallons per well – that returns to the surface.  In the USA, fracking companies have been allowed to leave the waste in large storage ponds.  This would not be allowed in the UK because of our more stringent environmental regulations.  This poses the fracking industry with a potentially show-stopping conundrum – how to dispose of all of the toxic waste?

The apparent answer, according to Andy Rowell at the Guardian, is to dump it in the sea:

“In an email sent in March to a resident in Ryedale district, North Yorkshire, where councillors gave the go-ahead to a fracking application by another company in May, a senior [Ineos]executive said that water produced during fracking could be discharged in the sea after being treated. It has not previously said where treated water would be released.”

The assumption is that existing public treatment facilities will be able to process the billions of gallons of toxic waste that a profitable shale industry would inevitably produce.  However, according to Elizabeth Ouzts and Rachel Richardson at Environment America, faced with the same problem:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned fracking wastewater from public sewage plants, citing the inability of these plants to handle toxic and radioactive pollutants.”

It is unlikely that British treatment plants will be in a better position to handle the toxic waste from fracking operations.  So fracking companies will have to pay to treat their own waste – another enormous cost for an industry that is already incapable of operating at a profit.

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