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Radioactive Water Streaming Out of Pennsylvania Fracking Waste Site

Report reveals 'surprising magnitude of radioactivity' in local water sources from fracking waste

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A Consol Energy Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig explores the Marcellus Shale outside the town of Waynesburg, PA on April 13, 2012 (Mladen Antonov AFP/Getty Images)Waste-water from a hydraulic fracturing site in Pennsylvania that is treated and released into local streams has caused high levels of toxic contamination, including elevated levels of radioactive materials, a report released Wednesday exposes.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of radioactivity" downstream from the plant, said co-author Avner Vengosh, geochemistry professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. "It's unusual to find this level," he told USA Today, adding that other sites should be investigated.

The Guardian reports:

The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year.

Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale waste waters, the study found.

The report, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology by a group of Duke University researchers, states that fracking waste water disposal methods pose a great threat to human and environmental health, particularly gas companies that send waste to treatment sites that are currently allowed to release treated water into local streams.

Shale gas production, i.e. fracking, is currently exempt from certain rules within laws such as  the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act due to the "Halliburton loophole" pushed through by former Vice-President/former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney. Frackers are allowed to monitor their own waste production and largely avoid any regulated restrictions.

According to the researchers, radium levels in the Pennsylvania stream sediments where waste-water was discharged were about "200 times greater than upstream and background sediments and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bio-accumulation in localized areas of shale gas waste-water disposal."

“Each day, oil and gas producers generate 2 billion gallons of waste-water,” said co-author Robert B. Jackson, Duke professor of environmental science, Tuesday. “They produce more waste-water than hydrocarbons. That’s the broader implication of this study. We have to do something with this waste-water."

“The use of fossil fuels has a direct climate connection,” he said. “Hundreds of billions of gallons of waste-water is a consequence of our reliance — our addiction — to fossil fuels. That’s another price we pay for needing so much oil and gas."

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