Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A pipe pours fracking waste into an unlined holding pond in Kern County, California. (Photo: Faces of Fracking/cc/flickr)

Fracking Fallout: New Analysis Reveals Over 100 Million Gallons of Toxic Wastewater Spilled Since 2009

Associated Press investigation finds more than 180 million gallons of fracking byproduct spilled from 2009 to 2014, tainting agricultural land, poisoning drinking water, and sparking the mass die-off of plant and animal life.

Lauren McCauley

Among the litany of risks posed by the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, an Associated Press analysis published Tuesday exposes yet another harmful side effect of the oil and gas drilling boom: an uptick in toxic wastewater spills.

According to data obtained from leading oil- and gas-producing states, "more than 180 million gallons of wastewater spilled from 2009 to 2014 in incidents involving ruptured pipes, overflowing storage tanks and other mishaps or even deliberate dumping," AP reports, tainting agricultural land, poisoning drinking water, and sparking the mass die-off of plant and animal life.

Most of the incidents involved the spill of fracking wastewater, which is a combination of underground brine mixed with a slurry of undisclosed chemicals. As the story notes, "A big reason why there are so many spills is the sheer volume of wastewater" produced, which according an organization of state groundwater agencies, amounts to roughly 10 barrels for every barrel of oil, or more than 840 billion gallons a year.

The report details a sampling of incidents, which help illustrate the scope of the problem. In one instance, a roughly 1 million gallon spill in North Dakota in 2006 caused a "massive die-off of fish, turtles and plants in the Yellowstone River and a tributary." In another case, a decades-long seepage of toxic brine onto Montana's Fort Peck Indian Reservation polluted a river, private wells, and the municipal water system, making the water "undrinkable."

What's more, the amount of toxic byproduct spilled along ranch land, streams, and forests has grown each year since the so-called fracking boom began.

"In 2009, there were 2,470 reported spills in the 11 states; by 2014, the total was 4,643. The amount of wastewater spilled doubled from 21.1 million gallons in 2009 to 43 million in 2013 before dipping to 37.6 million last year," AP reports.

The analysis found a total of 21,651 individual spills reported in Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah, and Montana during that period. However, AP notes that this figure is incomplete because "ninth-ranking oil producer Louisiana and second-ranking gas producer Pennsylvania" failed to provide spill data, and other such incidents often go undocumented.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

With Election Days Away, Bernie Sanders Headlines Get-Out-the-Vote Rally for Nina Turner

In his keynote speech, Sanders said corporate interests are pulling out all the stops to defeat Turner because "they know that when she is elected, she is going to stand up and take them on in the fight for justice."

Jake Johnson ·


Bush, Pressley, and Omar Sleep Outside Capitol to Demand Extension of Eviction Moratorium

Rep. Cori Bush, who was formerly unhoused, slammed her Democratic colleagues who "chose to go on vacation early today rather than staying to vote to keep people in their homes."

Jake Johnson ·


As Progressives Call for End to Blockade, Biden Announces More Sanctions Against Cuba

The move comes after Democratic leadership in the House blocked an amendment to roll back limits on how much money people in the United States can send to family on the island nation.

Jessica Corbett ·


Progressives Issue Dire Warning as House Bill to Extend Eviction Moratorium Dies

"If Congress does not act now, the fallout of the eviction crisis will undoubtedly set us backwards as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravish our communities, needlessly contributing to more death and destruction."

Brett Wilkins ·


Citing Donziger Case, Dems Raise Alarm About Use of Private Prosecutors in Federal Court

Private prosecutions of criminal contempt charges, said a pair of senators, "are highly unusual and can raise concerning questions of fundamental fairness in our criminal justice system."

Jessica Corbett ·