Is radioactive water making you glow, or are you just happy to see me?
While Gasland was busy making a run for an Oscar this weekend, the New York Times published a front page article on the dangers of hydrofracking. A radioactive exposé, if you will. In an effort to lay the electric green glowing data out on the table, Times journalist Ian Urbina discussed his illuminating natural gas journey over the past nine months. The Times reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documents obtained through open records requests of state and federal agencies and by visiting various regional offices that oversee drilling in Pennsylvania. What they discovered was crazier than a frog with two heads.
Since American Rivers listed the Upper Delaware as America’s Most Endangered River™ last year, we have been very concerned about the continued reports of water contamination associated with natural gas extraction. This article increases that concern, with more data and reports pointing to the possibility that radioactive material will end up in the public water supply. The Times is not the first to point out this alarming possibility. Scientific American published an article on this potential hazard in 2009, and Dr. Tracy Bank at the University of Buffalo presented research last year noting the potential movement of uranium out of natural gas deposits.
But wait. It gets better. On Tuesday, the NY Times published another article, this time on wastewater recycling from natural gas operations. It turns out that water flowing back out of natural gas wells is being recycled at a lower rate than the industry claims. In addition, wastewater is being bought by municipalities to de-ice their roads. So, if we put these two articles together, we find that potentially radioactive water is being sprayed on our roads and ultimately ends up in our water supply. This is very concerning. I just do not understand why toxic water is being used to de-ice roads. It is a fact that the wastewater contains the chemicals using in hydraulic fracturing; this is not debated. Regardless of whether you think natural gas extraction is safe or not, how could you think it is a good idea to pour the wastewater on the road?
We must remove the exemptions of the natural gas industry from federal environmental laws to ensure that public health and the condition of our rivers is protected. The NY Times report discusses how these loopholes are being exploited. It has to stop!
In the meantime, although it did not win an Academy Award, we congratulate Gasland and Josh Fox (Director) for helping to bring a national spotlight to this very concerning issue. We hope that more attention will be brought forth in the coming months as the public becomes more aware of the potential impacts of natural gas development.