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September 27th, 2011

Is it Safe to Store Fracking Fluid Underground?

By Rich Bindell

It’s not enough to have to worry about oil and gas companies building more and more shale gas wells in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. We also have to worry about them drilling wells 8,000 feet deep to store the leftover fracking fluid, like they do in Cambridge, OH, with a company called Devco.

Next door, in Pennsylvania, industry tried dumping the wastewater leftover from fracking into streams. When environmentalists questioned this disposal method, industry responded with claims that the streams dilute the chemicals enough to make such a method safe. Then the EPA decided to investigate the matter more closely and found that wastewater treatment plants couldn’t process the chemicals. When the EPA decided to prohibit the oil and gas industry from dumping the wastewater in streams, industry opted to truck it over to Ohio and inject it 8,000 feet in the ground in storage wells—permanent storage wells. Forever. Well, the hope is that it is forever.

The shale gas industry, as they’ve done for fracking in general, try to assure the public that storing wastewater in injection wells is safe. They say it is too deep to ever be a worry and that we should just trust them.

Many gas companies still won’t reveal which toxic chemicals are used to make fracking fluid. Don’t worry though, just trust them.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association Vice President Tom Stewart fracking fluid storage is a good move. “We think they got it right,” he said. “Put it back where it came from, or deeper.” Back where it came from? Am I to understand that Tom Stewart thinks fracking fluid grows naturally in Ohio, just below the surface of the earth? Do Ohioans really want their state to be a dumping ground for toxic chemicals from fracking in Pennsylvania and New York?

The idea of storing toxic fracking wastewater underground is shortsighted at best. It ignores the risks involved. The fluid is transported through injection wells to relatively porous pockets deep underground, so there’s nothing that truly contains the fluid since it doesn’t stay in the well. Even if it did, wells age and fluid can migrate. The pollution could potentially exist there for decades, posing risks to the groundwater resources on which future generations of Ohioans will depend.

We cannot rely on industry to drill for shale gas safely; they have a bottom line to protect. If they support the idea of injecting fracking fluid a few thousand feet in the ground, chances are they do so because it’s the cheapest alternative, in this case, an alternative to dumping it in our streams.

One Comment on Is it Safe to Store Fracking Fluid Underground?

  1. […] adequately, so long-term storage is often the easier route. These underground chambers can be well over a miledeep. One plant in Ohio, opened in 2011, hopes to be at the forefront of a new, lucrative industry. […]

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