A lot of unpleasant stuff ends up deep underground, including heavy metals and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM).
High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing involves injecting several million gallons of frack fluid into the geology, and about half of this comes back up the well. In the US they can use a branded frack fluid of undisclosed chemicals (in the past napalm and diesel have been used). But even if what goes down the well is not hazardous, what comes back up is highly contaminated.
Cuadrilla Resources carried out a test frack on Preese Hall well near Blackpool:
“Even if you add nothing at the surface, what flew back from Preese Hall 1 when they fracked it was lead at 1,438x drinking water, arsenic at 20x, cadmium, chromium, and there was 90x the maximum permissible level of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).” 1
This 2 million gallons of fluid was not properly treated, and discharged into the Manchester Ship Canal. 2
“There is currently no treatment works in the UK able and willing to take in fracking wastewater.” 3
Frack fluid has been disposed of in the US by injecting it back into wells:
“The disposal of fracking waste-water is causally linked to earthquakes and radioactive contamination of surface water. It remains a problem with no solution.” 4
Soon To Be Permitted In the UK?
The Environment Agency are currently slackening regulations, to allow waste frack fluid disposal by re-injection:
“The UK Environment Agency has released new guidelines contradicting its prohibition of waste water disposal following fracking. Allowing large volumes of chemically contaminated flowback water to be disposed of by injection underground has, in the USA, led to groundwater contamination, and to hundreds of significant earthquakes, not minor tremors.
There is currently no evidence to assure that subsurface injection of flowback water is safe in the UK.
Injection will be proposed by Third Energy in Yorkshire, to drill in 2016. If the UK is to dispose of high-volume flowback fluids from shale gas by using re-injection into geological formations, much further research into the potential risks of the process is required.”
UK failing to learn U.S. lessons on fracking waste water – Professor Haszeldine et al, Edinburgh University
Permission Granted for Massive Injection of Radioactive Waste Water into North York Moors
This newspaper article refers to the disposal of waste water produced from conventional production (rather than unconventional fracking). This has similar issues but on a much smaller scale.
- up to 6 billion litres of waste, potentially radioactive
- to be injected through the Corallian limestone aquifer that supplies the region’s drinking water
- Yorkshire Water concerned it may “directly affect their asset”
- When asked why they were not using Best Practice to dispose of the waste, Third Energy said it was a condition of the government’s licence that it must “maximise the economic recovery of oil and gas”
Fracking fears for the North York Moors after oil company gains permission to drill for gas – Independent, 10 August 2014
2. MP demands answers on why waste water from fracking was dumped into the Manchester Ship Canal – Messenger Newspapers
“Previous regulations classed the waste water as industrial effluent and Cuadrilla was legally authorised to discharge two million gallons into the Manchester Ship Canal after being processed at the Davyhulme treatment works in Trafford.”
3. Fracking wastewater, a summary of issues and situation in the UK – John Busby, Energy Consultant
4. Letter to Governor Cumo, 29 May 2014 – Concerned Health Professionals of New York