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Fracking poses substantial water pollution risks, analysts say

August 07, 2012
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STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Stony Brook University scientists have found that the disposal of contaminated wastewater from hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking” — wells producing natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region poses substantial potential risks of river and other water pollution that suggests additional regulation to reduce the potential of drinking water contamination.

In a paper titled “Water Pollution Risk Associated with Natural Gas Extraction from the Marcellus Shale,” which appears in the August 2012 issue of the journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis, Stony Brook doctoral student Daniel Rozell, P.E., and Sheldon Reaven, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Technology and Society and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, found that “Even in a best case scenario, an individual well would potentially release at least 200 m3 of contaminated fluids.”

Fracking involves pumping fluids underground into shale formations to release pockets of natural gas, which are then pumped to the surface. The Marcellus Shale region covers approximately 124,000 square kilometers from New York to West Virginia and is being intensely developed.

The researchers found that disposal of the large amounts of fracking well wastewater presents risks from salts and radioactive materials that are “several orders of magnitude larger” than for other potential water pollution pathways examined in the new study.

The authors concluded that “future research efforts should be focused primarily on wastewater disposal and specifically on the efficacy of contaminant removal by industrial and municipal wastewater treatment facilities.”

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