With the rise in oil and gas extraction from deep shale formations comes an increase in wastes, specifically waste water (frack water) from such processes. Traditionally, wastes from oil and gas fields were largely deemed non-hazardous (exempt) as classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Resources Conservation and Recovery Act from 1980. However, wastes from deep shale formations may have different constituents from wastes from traditional oil and gas fields. Thus, researchers from Resources for the Future and the University of Calgary, Canada studied lab reports from the solid wastes of 231 shale gas wells in Pennsylvania to characterize the constituents.
Upon careful review, the researchers found that in the lab reports, which were submitted previously to the Pennsylvania legislature, eight toxic chemicals (of 40 detailed in the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act) were found in the shale gas solid wastes. Of those eight toxic chemicals, two were in amounts greater than what was listed in the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act to be considered hazardous waste due to toxicity. Furthermore, when the lab reports were compared to more stringent and inclusive international lists, 22 toxic or dangerous chemicals were found. Additionally, the Ba, Cr, and Pb concentrations of the wastes were higher than state limits for disposal on-site. Radium-226 and radium-228 concentrations were too high for disposal in both Ohio and New York (based on the respective state regulations).
Thus, the data suggests that the wastes produced by oil and gas extractions from deep shale formations has possibility to be dangerous both to the local environment where they are disposed as well as the residents in that area. Regulations currently applied may be outdated and may need to be revised based on current research. For the safety of the general public as well as wildlife, additional cleaning and filtering of wastes should be performed prior to disposal. Additional studies regarding possible harm already done by current waste disposal practices should be performed, and actions should be taken to decrease future harm.
Written by Timothy Yeung, Contributor