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Ear to the Ground

Rural N.Y. Communities Use Fracking Waste to De-Ice Roads

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Posted on Dec 9, 2013
pringels (CC BY-ND 2.0)

What the hell are they thinking?

Several rural communities and counties in New York have received permission from state regulators—despite a state fracking moratorium and a warning from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—to spread fracking waste brine on roads as a de-icer.

Environmental group Riverkeeper, which focuses on the health of the Hudson River, warns that the liquid can move into watersheds, a concern that led nine other counties in the state to ban the practice. And remember, this is mystery juice. The natural gas industry, the frackheads who inject the fluid into subterranean shale formations to force out natural gas, has kept the chemical makeup of the fluid a closely held industrial secret.

So no one outside the industry really knows what those local snow-and-ice crews are spraying on the roadways. According to Capital New York, Riverkeeper scientist Bill Wegner sees disaster looming:

“The biggest concern is the carcinogens; you don’t want that to get into drinking water supplies,” Wegner said.

Production brine largely comes from some of the 6,000 low-volume gas wells currently allowed in New York as well as some in Pennsylvania, and is used for de-icing, dust control and road stabilization. The fluid can pollute rivers, streams and aquifers if not controlled properly, and it contains high levels of chloride, benzene and toluene, all of which can cause health problems in humans, Wegner said. It can also contain naturally-occuring radioactive materials. And while chloride is contained in the road salt commonly used across the country, it is far more concentrated in fracking waste. Some of the brine is a waste product that comes from natural gas storage facilities. Thirteen municipalities received state permission to use fracking brine, which comes out of wells, and 10 use brine that is removed from natural gas after it has been stored for a while. Both contain pollutants.

Riverkeeper obtained the applications of communities applying to spread the fluid on their roads from the state Department of Environmental Conservation through a Freedom of Information Law request. Private businesses in western New York requested the fluid, which is free or cheaper than traditional methods, as did the towns of Genesee and Dunkirk, and the state Department of Transportation in Chautauqua County.

In 2007, a federal report on a fracking juice spill in Kentucky resulted in a fish kill, and many fish that survived “developed gill lesions, liver damage and spleen damage,” RT News reported when the reports came out in August. According to RT News:

The study, which was conducted by the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, studied water samples and the bodies of the exposed fish to determine the effects of fracking chemicals on their health.

The study was based on a fracking fluid spill that occurred at the Acorn Fork Creek in southeastern Kentucky in the mid-2007. Nami Resources Company, an oil and gas exploration company, spilled the fluids into the creek, which killed nearly all aquatic life in direct exposure to the substances.

Narrow stream flows were contaminated with hydrochloric acid and other chemicals used for fracking. Water supplies were polluted and numerous species of fish suffered “a significant die-off,” the USGS announced on Wednesday. The fluids killed significant numbers of Blackside dace, a threatened species of ray-finned fish endemic to Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. The Creek chub and the Green sunfish also experienced a die-off.

Surviving fish exposed to the chemicals developed gill lesions and suffered from liver and spleen damage, the study found. These symptoms mirror those experienced by fish exposed to acidic water and toxic concentrations of heavy metals, the USGS reports.

The fracturing fluids dropped the creek’s pH levels from 7.5 to 5.6 and increased stream conductivity from 200 to 35,000 microsiemens per centimeter.

Another study found elevated levels of radioactive material in watersheds downstream from emission points. So, what could possibly go wrong with spreading some on a snowy country road?

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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