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Fracking Waste

Hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") waste contains high levels of naturally occurring radioactive material brought to the surface by drilling as well as a toxic mixture of chemicals used in the fracking process. The extraction process produces two types of wastewater: Flowback water is the chemically treated fracking fluid that returns to the surface shortly after a fracking operation. Produced water, also known as "formation water" or "fracking brine" is the fluid that comes out of the shale formation along with the oil or gas. The process also produces tons of semi-solid waste in the form of drilling muds, sludge, and cuttings.

The toxic chemical mixture that returns to the surface with the oil or gas contains heavy metals, brines, volatile organic compounds, carcinogens, and naturally occurring radioactive contaminants, including radium-226, radium-228, and radon. These chemicals are linked to endocrine disruption, neurological and immune system damage, and certain cancers.

Fast Facts

  • Fracking waste contains radioactive material as well as prodigious amounts of a highly toxic mixture of chemicals. There is no safe method of disposal.

 

  • Under current law, fracking waste is not defined as “hazardous waste,” and is not subject to tracking requirements for its handling, storage, transport and disposal.

 

  • Public and private wastewater treatment facilities are not capable of processing radioactive and highly toxic fracking waste. Landfill disposal and road spreading activities using fracking waste can permanently contaminate ground and surface waters. 

The huge quantities of waste generated by fracking pose a significant disposal problem for the industry as well as health and environmental impacts to nearby and distant communities. Congress has exempted oil and gas waste from the definition of hazardous waste, even though it routinely exceeds criteria for such classification, eliminating tracking requirements for its handling, storage, treatment and disposal. Public and private wastewater treatment facilities are not capable of processing the hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials produced by drilling activities.

Landfills used for disposal of radioactive sludge from oil and gas drilling operations can contaminate them for thousands of years and its leachate can contaminate ground and surface waters used for public water supplies. Storage in closed containment tanks that eventually leak can also result in permanent groundwater and surface water contamination. The presence of highly radioactive materials and other fracking waste contaminants in local agricultural crops and their irrigation systems could cause irreparable damage to our food supplies and serious impacts to the economy.​

Spreading of brine-laced fracking wastewater or its byproducts for dust control and de-icing on roads increases the risk of exposure to drivers and pedestrians as well as contamination of nearby fields and surface waters. Road spreading can also contaminate groundwater, and increase the risk of inhalation and ingestion of radioactive materials and toxic chemicals by humans and livestock.

The transportation, storage, disposal, sale or use of toxic waste from fracking operations has been banned in many counties. These laws generally include prohibitions on the acceptance of fracking waste at landfills or water treatment plants, as well as the purchase or use of "ice treatments" and other road surface materials that use highly contaminated brine or other byproducts from fracking operations.

Fracking waste is also transported from the fracking site to be disposed of by injecting it into porous rock formations. These wastewater injection wells (disposal wells) increase pressure below the surface, and if they are deep enough and located in sensitive areas, may lead to earthquakes. Several states with large numbers of injection wells have had unusually high numbers of earthquakes since this practice began. Geologists acknowledge that the growing number of injection wells is also changing the earth’s geology, allowing water and waste to flow more freely.

 

New York State and Connecticut

 

The transportation, storage, disposal, sale or use of toxic waste from fracking operations has been banned in Connecticut and many counties in New York State. These laws generally include prohibitions on the acceptance of fracking waste at landfills or water treatment plants, and the purchase or use of "ice treatments" and other road surface materials that use highly contaminated wastewater or other byproducts from fracking operations. Please contact us for sample legislation language.