Pennsylvania’s governor is taking immediate action following a television news investigation directly linked hydraulic fracking to water contamination in the state.
Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered drilling companies to stop using 15 publicly owned facilities to treat the wastewater from fracking. Drilling companies have been using such treatment plants to clean up toxic fracking wastewater and discharge it back into waterways. But after a salty substance known as bromide was found in the fluid, serious concerns were raised.
The TV report from KDKA says technicians at the Pittsburgh Water Authority became concerned with increased amounts of bromide in the Allegheny River. The same reports mentions Carnegie Mellon University professor Jeanne VanBreisen saying, “When disinfection byproducts enter our drinking water and we consume them over a long time period, they’ve been associated with a particular form of cancer — bladder cancer — and with a particular set of negative reproductive outcomes in terms of miscarriages and still births.”
The use of public water treatment plants to clean fracking wastewater is thought to be a problem unique to Pennsylvania. Other areas where fracking takes place, including Colorado, Wyoming Texas and Arkansas, generally use containment shafts or storage wells to hold the wastewater. At this point, Pennsylvania will have to come up with an alternative plan.
Most interesting is the acknowledgement from industry officials that contamination has taken place. A separate story by KDKA quotes the president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents natural gas companies, saying the group, “now believes the natural gas exploration industry is partly responsible for rising levels of contaminants found in the area drinking water.”
In February, The New York Times’ Ian Urbina identified several concerns about Pennsylvania’s ability to treat wastewater. One of the main concerns was the capability of public water treatment facilities to remove radioactive material from fracking wastewater. Now, there's even more reason for concern.