Protest over Obama fracking wastewater plan

Fears have been raised over a US proposal to transport fracking wastewater by barge as energy analysts claim it will pose a serious health risk to drinking water.

According to a Reuters report, the Obama administration is inching ahead with a plan which would allow fracking drillers to ship the waste, known as brine, for recycling or disposal rather than use road or rail.

Some fracking companies assert that barges are a safer method of transport, but this is disputed by environmental groups who worry the brine could spill over and pollute rivers before working its way into domestic water supplies.

Fracking fluid contains chemicals added by drillers, while produced water can be laced with heavy metals and radium or other radioactive materials.

According to green group Ohio Citizen Action director of development Melissa English, the Ohio River – one waterway where companies want to barge the waste – is already polluted from a number of industries.

She argued that if a barge spilt waste from fracking, it could be dangerous for cities that depend on the river for drinking water especially if they lack the necessary infrastructure to filter out potential contaminants.

One concern is that publicly operated water treatment centres may not be equipped to handle so-called technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radionuclide materials, known as TENORMs, which have accumulated in water drawn out of shale formations.

Meanwhile energy policy analyst Kevin Book, based at ClearView Energy Partners, said if the proposal went forward it could offer clues on how the Obama administration will regulate fracking wastewater in the future.

The US-based Environmental Protection Agency signalled in 2011 that it could issue rules under the Clean Water Act to regulate radioactive materials and other pollutants from fracking wastewater.

“The pending brine rule may offer a first glimpse of whether – and how – the Obama administration’s interagency gas group could address TENORMs,” said Book.

Maxine Perella

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