Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hydrofracking leaves water radioactive?

There is concern in Pennsylvania that some wastewater is not being properly treated and, as a result, this toxic water may be mixing with drinking water sources. This is the result of a process commonly refered to as hydrofracking. More formally known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, this relatively new type of drilling is being used to access natural gas which exists as bubbles in deep layers of rock beneath the earth's surface. This process involves blasting the rock with high pressure water which contains a combination of sand and chemicals. While some of these chemicals do occur naturally, they do not normally mix with drinking water. This is where there is a foreseen problem.

After blasting, the wastewater is treated by sewage or other wastewater treatment plants, but data has been gathered showing that the process of cleaning the water there leaves the water with levels of toxins higher than what was previously known. After being treated the water then mixes with other waters and may eventually be getting into the drinking water supply. The issue is under review while arguments are being raised about the level of testing to which the waters are subjected. The New York Times article has more on the story.

Photo credit: Kevin Moloney for The New York Times