Drilling and Fracing Bring Up Ammonium and Iodide, Researchers find alarming levels of these new contaminants in wastewater released into Pennsylvania and West Virginia streams while Range Resources settles with DEP for $1.75 Million

Fracking Brings Ammonium and Iodide to Local Waterways, Researchers find alarming levels of these new contaminants in wastewater released into Pennsylvania and West Virginia streams by Marianne Lavelle, Daily Climate, January 14, 2015, Scientific American

Two hazardous chemicals never before known as oil and gas industry pollutants—ammonium and iodide—are being released and spilled into Pennsylvania and West Virginia waterways from the booming energy operations of the Marcellus shale, a new study shows.

The toxic substances, which can have a devastating impact on fish, ecosystems, and potentially, human health, are extracted from geological formations along with natural gas and oil during both hydraulic fracturing and conventional drilling operations, said Duke University scientists in a study published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The chemicals then are making their way into streams and rivers, both accidentally and through deliberate release from treatment plants that were never designed to handle these contaminants, the researchers said. … Over the years, the industry has faced questions about unsafe well design that allows methane to seep into drinking water, and about lubricants and other chemicals it adds to frack water. Duke researchers have conducted a number of studies on these problems. Now add to the list of concerns ammonium and iodide—two naturally occurring, dangerous chemicals that are essentially unregulated in oil and gas wastewater. [Is anything really regulated in the oil and gas industry in North America with regulators working hard to avoid inspection and enforcement, and pushing voluntary unenforceable “best practices” on impacted communities?]

“We are releasing this wastewater into the environment and it is causing direct contamination and human health risks,” said study co-author Avner Vengosh, professor of water quality and geochemistry at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “It should be regulated and it should be stopped. That’s not even science; it’s common sense.” [Why regulate something you recommend stopping?  Regulation is to legally enable the abuses.]

Industry sources did not respond immediately to word of the new study.

When dissolved in water, ammonium can turn to ammonia, highly toxic to aquatic life. The Duke team found ammonium levels in streams and rivers from energy industry wastewater outflows at levels 50 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water-quality threshold. Under a loophole created by Congress in a 2005 energy law, fracking wastewater isn’t regulated under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.

Meanwhile, the Duke scientists found that the iodide contamination from energy operations – while not toxic by itself – promotes the production of disinfection byproducts when it comes in contact with the chlorine that is used to treat most drinking water systems. Previous studies have shown that such disinfection byproducts have toxic and carcinogenic properties, but only a few are regulated.

“As far as we are aware, iodide and ammonium are not regulated, nor monitored in any of the [oil and gas] operations in the United States,” the researchers said in their paper.

Terrence Collins, director of the Institute for Green Science at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, was not involved in the study but said findings of iodide contamination are particularly worrisome, especially if stream or river water is extracted downstream for drinking water. “Widely practiced chemical treatments to kill pathogens are likely to cause the iodide to become incorporated into organic matter in the drinking water, and I am concerned that this could result in increased incidences of cancer,” he said in an email.

Kimberly Mildstein attends Councilman Paddy Munro’s presentation to Mountain View County Council in 2012. “Fracking is crimes against humanity,” he presented.

The recent boom in U.S. oil and gas production has been accompanied by a surge in wastewater production. Fracked wells produce about 1 million to 2 million gallons of wastewater per well. For conventional wells, the volume is less but the risk of contamination with ammonium and iodide is the same. “The method doesn’t matter,” said Vengosh.

“Fracking fluids are not much different from conventional oil and gas wastes,” said Jennifer Harkness, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Duke.

The researchers collected and analyzed 44 samples of wastewater produced from conventional oil and gas wells in New York and Pennsylvania and 31 samples of “flowback”—the highly saline and polluted fluid that flows back to the surface during and after fracking—from shale gas wells in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. They also collected and analyzed oil and gas effluents being directly discharged into streams, rivers and surface waters at three disposal sites in Pennsylvania and a spill site in West Virginia.

In states like Texas and Oklahoma, with long histories of conventional drilling, oil and gas wastewater is disposed by injection in deep underground wells. But in Pennsylvania, a hotbed of fracking, there are few such sites. Some oil and gas wastewater is discharged to waterways after treatment at commercially operated industrial brine treatment plants, which were not designed to remove ammonium or iodide.

There also have been wastewater spills, including seeps from illegal disposal, leaking from surface impoundments, and truck tanker accidents. Some states even have purposely spread the salty oil and gas wastewater on roads to suppress dust or for de-icing.

The estimated volume of oil and gas industry wastewater generated in the U.S. is now more than 837 billion gallons (3.18 billion cubic meters) per year.

De l’ammonium et de l’iodure trouvés dans des cours d’eau qui irriguent les régions fracturées hydrauliquement translation by Amie du Richelieu, January 15, 2015

[Refer also to:

Range Resources settles water records issue with PA DEP by Joe Mandak, January 16, 2015, Associated Press
PITTSBURGH – A drilling company has agreed to a $1.75 million settlement over concerns that the firm didn’t properly record how much water it drew from waterways to use when creating natural gas wells, Pennsylvania environmental officials said Friday.

Under the deal, Canonsburg-based Range Resources-Appalachia will be fined $800,000 and will spend roughly $950,000 [to benefit Range? Refer to end of the article] to help the state Department of Environmental Protection expand, repair and operate an abandoned mine-drainage treatment project in Findlay Township, near Pittsburgh. The abandoned mine drainage has nothing to do with Range Resources drilling operations. Rather, DEP and Range Resources said the company volunteered to take on the project because it will benefit the environment.

The DEP and Range both said the company has fixed procedural problems in how the company records its water usage. “Range notified the DEP immediately upon discovering these issues and promptly took additional steps to better manage water withdrawals and regulatory reporting,” Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in a statement Friday. The DEP approved Range’s new procedures in February, which should prevent future problems, Pitzarella said.

The DEP approved Range’s water management plan in 2009 but learned the company hadn’t been complying with it last year. The plan requires Range to record daily maximums for water withdrawal as well as maximum withdrawal rates, which are designed to protect waterways, and to report that information through an online DEP database. “But in reviewing that and comparing that to their own paper records, we saw some discrepancies and, further, Range reported through their own review that there were some discrepancies,” DEP spokesman John Poister said. In general, Range was under-reporting the water use “although there were a couple of instances where they over-reported,” Poister said.

“The company is now in compliance. They have changed their procedures,” Poister said. “Some of it may not have been intentional. There were procedural problems in the ways they were doing it.” Poister said the company volunteered to help the DEP with the Hamilton Abandoned Mine Treatment System in Findlay. The system was built in 2003 to help filter out acid mine drainage that could pollute the Raccoon Creek watershed.

But a former property owner had restricted access to the site and the DEP ran out of money to repair and expand the treatment system, Poister said. The property has a new owner so, “as part of the penalty, Range came in and said, ‘OK, we’ll come in and take on this project,'” he said. As part of the settlement, Range is spending more than $190,000 to operate the mine drainage facility over the next 10 years, Poister said. [To use to dispose of their frac waste water without appropriately treating it?]

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.