As fracking threatens to expand drilling in California, a coalition of environmental justice and community health groups sent a letter yesterday challenging the legality of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board’s plan to keep letting oil companies dump toxic drilling-mud waste throughout the valley with minimal safeguards.
Citing state environmental laws, the letter urges the water board not to move forward next month with a proposal to exempt drilling mud waste discharge from regulations. Drilling muds—used to facilitate drilling of oil and gas wells—contain scores of chemicals that can pose severe risks to human health.
“The water board will endanger the health of every person in the Central Valley if it gives these toxic drilling muds a free pass,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As fracking and acidization open new areas to oil drilling, the board has a duty to the people to protect our water and public health—not make it easier for oil companies to dump their dangerous waste without safeguards.”
According to a Pro Publica investigation, in the three-year period examined, operators pumped oil and gas drilling waste into Class 2 injection wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks more than 1,000 times. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit.
According to ProPublica, “Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating back to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.”
Millions of barrels of wastewater trucked into Ohio from shale-gas wells in Pennsylvania might be highly radioactive, according to a government study.
Radium in one sample of Marcellus shale wastewater, also called brine, that Pennsylvania officials collected in 2009 was 3,609 times more radioactive than a federal safety limit for drinking water. It was 300 times higher than a Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for industrial discharges to water.
The December 2011 study, compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, also found that the median levels of radium in brine from Marcellus shale wells was more than three times higher than brine collected from conventional oil and gas wells.
“These are very, very high concentrations of radium compared to other oil and gas brines,” said Mark Engle, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist and co-author of the report.
It will take years for the full health impact of natural gas development to be known. Authors of a new peer-reviewed study urge that steps be taken now to protect the health of humans and the planet. Modern Natural Gas Development and Harm to Health: The Need for Proactive Public Health Policies argues that the natural gas industry must make changes now to protect the health of people and animals.
The paper provides a literature review of unconventional natural gas development and its effects on human health. It focuses on impacts on children’s health, general harm to health, water contamination and air and soil contamination.