The Overlooked Threat to Our Nation's Drinking Water
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Worse still, many Northeast municipal sewage systems also process storm water. So every time there is a hard rain, large volumes of runoff force the shutdown of sewage treatment plants, allowing high volumes of untreated raw sewage, and possibly frack wastewater, to gush into waterways.
Another frack waste disposal approach is for gas companies to treat wastewater onsite and reuse the water in future fracks. However, this can be energy intensive and costly. Gas companies also sometimes sell the byproduct – a super salty waste called brine that contains heavy metals and other pollutants – to state transportation departments to melt highway snow in winter and suppress dust in summer. This use conveys salts and chemicals to waterways via runoff, and should be discontinued.
Costs to clean water tainted by fracking – whether injected underground, treated and dumped or reused – are currently being externalized by oil and gas companies, with cities and states, and ultimately us, the taxpayers, picking up the tab. Toothless federal and state laws and industry exemptions to environmental laws have so far failed to address the problem.
People tout natural gas as a cheap fuel, but that is faulty logic that fails to add in water cleanup costs. It is also touted as a clean fuel that can help curb climate change. But new research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that “alarmingly high methane emissions” from natural gas wells may mean that this fossil fuel does as much harm to the climate as coal.
When proper accounting is done, we may discover that natural gas is simply not cost-effective – or environmentally friendly – and that it is time for the U.S. to pursue other energy options.
Freelance reporter Erica Gies has been published by The New York Times, Forbes.com, The International Herald Tribune, Wired News, Grist, and E/The Environmental Magazine