USA Sues Exxon Fracker for polluting public drinking water with toxic waste in Pennsylvania

Obama Administration Sues Exxon for Polluting Pennsylvania Drinking Water with Toxic Fracking Waste by Noel Brinkerhoff, July 24, 2013,
Having settled one water pollution case, an Exxon subsidiary is now facing a federal lawsuit alleging its hydraulic fracturing operations contaminated water supplies in Pennsylvania. XTO Energy is accused of polluting groundwater with fracking waste from its natural gas well pad and storage facility in Hughesville, Lycoming County, according to the lawsuit.  The U.S. Department of Justice claims XTO Energy allowed flowback fluid and wastewater byproduct to reach water supplies. The complaint says that “flowback fluid and produced fluid contain brine, proppant, hydraulic fracturing chemicals, dissolved solids, heavy metals and radionuclides.”  The litigation comes only days after the Exxon subsidiary agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and to spend $20 million to improve wastewater management practices involving its Pennsylvania and West Virginia natural gas operations. The improvements are to include installation of an alarm system that will warn plant operators of onset of spills. In the settled legal case, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited a Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection inspector’s visit to XTO’s Penn Township plant, where wastewater was seen spilling from an open valve from a series of interconnected tanks. The identical combination of pollutants was found in a Susquehanna River basin tributary, which was traced back to the XTO plant.

The new lawsuit was filed almost simultaneously with media reports saying a “landmark federal study” commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy revealed “no evidence that chemicals from the natural gas drilling process moved up to contaminate drinking water aquifers at a western Pennsylvania drilling site.” The study’s controversial results were called “preliminary.” [Emphasis added]

USA Sues Exxon Fracker for polluting public drinking water with toxic waste in Pennsylvania by Erin McAuley, July 22, 2013, Courthouse News Service
The United States sued Exxon subsidiary XTO Energy, claiming its hydraulic fracking has polluted public drinking waters in Pennsylvania with toxic wastes. … But in the lawsuit, the United States cites XTO’s natural gas well pad and storage facility in Hughesville, Lycoming County, for unauthorized discharges of flowback fluid and produced fluid. … In its recent complaint, the United States claims a state inspector observed and documented pollutants as they were released from XTO tanks and valves used in hydraulic fracturing, to flow through the aquifer into public water. … In its lawsuit, the United States says a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit may be issued to authorize pollutant discharge into federal waters but only on the condition that all discharges meet applicable Clean Water Act requirements, which is not the case for the Lycoming County well. Liquid injected into the wells during fracking generates a byproduct known as flowback fluid, and wastewater byproduct from the production of natural gas liquid is called produced fluid. According to the complaint, “flowback fluid and produced fluid contain brine, proppant, hydraulic fracturing chemicals, dissolved solids, heavy metals and radionuclides.” The complaint continues: “At its facility, defendant stored the flowback fluid and produced fluid in portable tanks, known as Baker Tanks, to be recycled and then reused in its fracturing operations at various wells throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Defendant used mobile treatment equipment to recycle the produced water from the Baker Tanks and at times stored produced water to be transported off site to be recycled, so that the produced water can be reused. “On November 16, 2010, a state inspector conducted an inspection at the Facility. At this time, defendant had approximately 57 Baker Tanks on the well pad at the northwest side of the facility, each having a capacity of 21,000 gallons. Defendant did not have the mobile treatment equipment at the facility on this date.

“It was raining heavily during the inspection on November 16, 2010, and rainfall records in the area show that it rained before the inspection and continued after the inspection. “The state inspector observed an open valve on a 21,000 gallon Baker Tank. The contents of the Baker Tank were being released to the ground. The Baker Tank was connected internally to five other Baker tanks, all of which stored flowback fluid and produced fluid. The flowback fluid and produced fluid stored in the tanks contained, among other things: barium, calclium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium, bromide, chloride, total dissolved fluids. “The flowback fluid and produced fluid released from the Baker Tank flowed overland to the drainage basin for the Lower Branch of the Susquehanna River. It also drained through the surface soils and into groundwater, which was then released in seeps to a spring and in unnamed tributary known as Tributary 19617.” The complaint says the fluids “entered the fracture system,” and “recharged groundwater over time … . Sampling conducted after the release into Tributary 19617 and the unnamed spring showed that for up to sixty-five days pollutants associated with natural gas extraction, such as total dissolved solids, strontium, barium, bromides and chloride, were present.” … Uncle Sam seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each violation after Jan. 12, 2009, and an injunction against further Clean Water Act violations

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Technical Announcement: U.S. Shale Formations Might Safely House Nuclear Waste Press Release by US Department of the Interior and US Geological Survey, July 23, 2013
Shale and other clay-rich rock formations might offer permanent disposal solutions for spent nuclear fuel, according to a new paper by the U.S. Geological Survey. There is currently about 70,000 metric tons of this spent fuel in temporary storage across the United States. While no specific sites have been evaluated for storage potential in the United States, USGS scientists have looked at several research efforts, including projects that are underway in France, Belgium and Switzerland to confirm that shale formations in those countries are favorable for hosting nuclear waste repositories. “Deciding how to safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste is a very important issue that is not going to go away,” said Chris Neuzil, the article’s author. “Although shales and similar rocks have not been considered for hosting nuclear waste in the United States, recent research points to them as a very promising option.”

Shale formations are attractive for nuclear waste storage for several reasons. First and foremost, they have extremely low permeability, meaning groundwater cannot easily flow through them. Most shale formations and similar rocks containing abundant clay are millions to tens of billions of times less permeable than aquifers that are used to supply water. The primary concern with radioactive waste underground is to prevent any groundwater that contacts it from carrying contaminants out of the repository. Formations with very low permeability significantly reduce the potential for that contamination to occur. It is also important to ensure that water-transmitting fractures are absent over large areas, and in many shales it appears possible to do this. … Potentially usable shale formations in the United States—those without extractable energy resources or other prohibitive circumstances—are distributed widely across the country and many are in tectonically stable areas. Geologically and geographically, potential choices for a repository are many. The article is entitled “Can Shale Safely Host U.S. Nuclear Waste?” and is published in EOS, a journal by the American Geophysical Union. More information on this article and other water research can be found at the USGS Water National Research Program website.

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