Wastewater plants not designed for fracking water, says Robert F Kennedy Jr

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LONDON, England, Dec. 5, 2011 – Hydraulic fracturing may be attracting its fair share of pundits and negative press headlines for reportedly triggering mini-earthquakes, but a new warning has been sent out to the industry for its disposal of wastewater.

Widespread concerns have been raised about the process, known as fracking, which involves injecting high pressured water underground to break apart gas-bearing rock. Earlier this year operations in the UK were halted following a reported 1.5 magnitude tremor (see Water & Wastewater International (WWi) story).

In the US, where fracking operations have historically been operating for longer periods, industry geologists predicted at one stage that fracking gas rich shale beds could provide between 2000-5000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – enough to power the country for 25 years.

US environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr, an early optimist but soon turned campaigner, has frequently addressed the gas fracking industry and associations on the process, including regular articles in the Huffington Post.

In an article posted in October, Kennedy cited a report from The Times and said “sewage plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of gas industry water that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating”.

Speaking exclusively to WWi about the issue, Kennedy said: “Fracking water should not be going into wastewater treatment plants. Sewage treatment plants are not designed for this. What we are finding now is that fracking not only has all of these organic chemical compounds but some of the shale beds, particularly the Marcellus Shale, are radioactive. And wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove this level of radioactivity. So you are asking sewage plants to do something that they were not designed to do.”

As part of a wide-ranging interview, he added: “There are lots of good technologies out there – desalination, filtration – where the fracking industry can decontaminate their water onsite and use closed loop systems. The problem is that US regulators at the state level have been captured by the industry and they have not been requiring them to be using best available technologies.”

Contracts for the onsite treatment of fracking wastewater have been awarded in the past. Back in September an agreement was announced for an onsite semi-portable water reuse facility on the Marcellus Shale (see WaterWorld.com story).

Furthermore, companies are quickly developing technology for the treatment of this wastewater in anticipation of heightened regulation.

One example is Massachusetts-based Oasys Water, which has started commercialisation of a new, thin-film composite polyamide membrane developed for forward osmosis processes. It was hoping to deploy a demonstration unit for the oil and gas industry this summer to help reuse high salinity water produced from fracking processes.

Kennedy, who is also president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, went onto say: “The industry really has a credibility problem. They’ve [hydraulic fracturing companies] been able to capture the agencies that are supposed to regulate them and prevent the kind of strong rigorous regulation you need to make the industry work and give the industry credibility in the mind of the public…There are a number of companies out there that are behaving responsibly but they are being hurt by a large number of bad apples.”

- The full version of the interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr will appear in the December-January issue of WWi magazine. To subscribe for a free copy, please click here.

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