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Fracking Disposal Sites Cause Health, Environmental Concerns

October 3rd, 2014

The consumer watchdog group The Center for Public Integrity recently released the results of their investigation into fracking disposal procedures in Texas. The report found that drilling operators had proposed several fracking disposal sites near schools and residential areas. These sites often carry hazards chemicals, including ozone and volatile organic compounds that can contaminate the air, land, and groundwater supplies in nearby areas, all without violating state and federal waste disposal laws.

How Fracking Disposal Works

Fracking disposal involves the removal of waste products from the hydraulic fracturing process. Hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking”, uses high-pressure fluids to access petroleum and natural gas reserves that are typically inaccessible by conventional drilling methods. The waste water is often re-used in other fracking projects. The waste solids, often a mixture of mud, dirt and petroleum-derived sludge, are transported open-air pits used as fracking disposal sites.

Fracking Disposal Leaves Hazardous Chemicals

The waste solids deposited at fracking disposal sites often contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals. A 2010 investigation by the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality found that a pit designed to hold waste from a fracking disposal site contained trace amounts of volatile organic compounds. These chemicals, also known as VOCs, include benzene, ethylbenzene, and toluene. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause respiratory damage, eye irritation, and skin rashes. VOCs are also known carcinogens, so chronic exposure can lead to cancer, as well as organ damage and illnesses of the nervous system.

Lax Fracking Disposal Regulations

The CPI study found that lax and conflicting regulations,k both at the state and federal levels, have allowed fracking disposal site operators to continue their work with very few restrictions. A 1988 federal law exempted oil and gas producers from EPA regulations, despite EPA reports showing that up to 70 percent of oil and gas waste would be classified as “hazardous” without the exemption. Texas, a state heavily dependent on the oil industry for its economy, has limited enforcement powers on its environmental regulations. Of the more than 200 air quality monitoring sites overseen by the TCEQ, only five cover the Eagle Ford Shale, a center for fracking activity and fracking disposal sites in South Texas.

Fracking Disposal: Business vs. Health

Oil companies and drilling operators maintain that, if fracking waste products were considered hazardous waste, the price of fracking disposal would increase severalfold. Oil companies would either slow down production to reduce their waste output, or pass the cost of safe fracking disposal on to their customers. Both choices would result in higher prices for gasoline, heating oil and natural gas.

State Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (R-Nordheim), recognizes the conflict between the health of the local economy and the health of its people, many of which would be affected by a proposed fracking disposal site.

“It might make business sense,” she told local residents, “but I have yet to see that it makes logical sense for this community.”

Source: Center for Public Integrity

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