Study Finds Elevated Contaminant Levels at Fracking Sites, Conventional Wells

A newly released study found water discharged from energy drilling operations in the U.S. poses risks to human health and the environment,calling for additional government regulations on the practices.

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A newly released study found water discharged from energy drilling operations in the U.S. poses risks to human health and the environment,calling for additional government regulations on the practices.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, reviewed water samples from fracking sites in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, as well as conventional wells in New York and Pennsylvania.

The research by Duke University scientists concluded there were no difference in the levels of certain contaminants between fracking sites and traditional oil and gas wells and found similarly high levels of chloride, bromide, iodide and ammonium at the sites. The latter three compounds, in particular, can impact stream ecosystems and form toxic byproducts chlorination at downstream water treatment plants, according to the report. Levels of ammonia in the samples were 50 times higher than the federal threshold for aquatic wildlife safety.

Water samples containing the contaminants had previously been treated and cleared for returning to waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“There are significant environmental and ecosystem impacts of current disposal practices in the U.S.," the researchers wrote. "Regulatory action is needed to address these concerns."

Although the report found similar contaminant levels near conventional wells and fracking sites, the report's authors noted the recent boom in fracking puts more of the country’s water at risk. Oil fracking output more than tripled between 2010 and 2013 in the U.S., though the plummeting price of oil worldwide has raised concerns about whether the industry can keep up.

Critics of fracking, meanwhile, have raised other concerns about tainted water near fracking sites, as well as questions about air pollution and small earthquakes. New York became the first state with substantial natural gas resources to ban the practice last year.

The oil and gas industry
counters fracking is safe and an economic boon for the nation, and that natural gas helps deliver cleaner air.

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