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The fracking boom has been applauded by many as the saviour of the US, dragging its economy out of recession, and bringing in a new era of oil and gas production that could see the country become energy independent in the coming years.
Fracking has also attracted attention as a source of pollution and threat to the environment. More than 80,000 fracking wells have been drilled since 2005, and various studies have shown that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have a number of negative consequences, such as contaminating wells and streams, and the release of large amounts of methane at all parts of the production train.
A new concern that people are starting to take notice of is the billions of gallons of waste water that is returned to the surface along with oil and gas after a well is fracked, and its safe disposal.
A new report by Environment America, a campaign group, found that last year fracking in the US produced 280 billion gallons of toxic waste water, enough, according to the report, to flood the whole of Washington DC in 22 feet.
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Environment America claims that “our analysis shows that damage from fracking is widespread and occurs on a scale unimagined just a few years ago.”
The exact damage that fracking causes to the environment, both air and water, has not yet been calculated, but “even the limited data that is currently available, however, paints an increasingly clear picture of the damage that fracking has done to our environment and health.”
Each well requires between 2 million and 9 million gallons of water, mixed with sand and special chemicals, in order to be completely fracked, and this has added up to 250 billion gallons of water since 2005. Much of this then becomes polluted with naturally occurring radioactive substances, such as radium and bromide.
The waste water pits in which the contaminated water is stored can often leak, and the report claims that treatment plants are not completely effective at cleaning the water. In fact the report says that water that still contains bromide causes huge problems when converted to drinking water. “When bromide in the wastewater mixes with chlorine (often used at drinking water treatment plants), it produces trihalomethanes, chemicals that cause cancer and increase the risk of reproductive or developmental health problems.”
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com