Road salt, development blamed for spiking chloride levels
Lakes from New England to the Midwest are getting saltier from the massive use of chemicals to melt ice on roads, as well as from urban development. Under the current trend, many North American lakes will surpass EPA-recommended chloride levels in 50 years, spelling trouble for aquatic ecosystems.
In what is probably one of the EPA’s final moves before the Trump era starts, the agency this week released a new study showing how fracking can affect drinking water. There’s nothing in the report that wasn’t already known to scientists, water managers and health experts, but the fact that the EPA finally acknowledged the potential impacts is important, according to environmental advocates.
As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe, including:
Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.
“The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources. EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities,” EPA science advisor Thomas A. Burke said in a press release. “This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.”
The report is organized around activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their potential to impact drinking water resources. The stages include:
acquiring water to be used for hydraulic fracturing (Water Acquisition),
mixing the water with chemical additives to make hydraulic fracturing fluids (Chemical Mixing),
injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into the production well to create and grow fractures in the targeted production zone (Well Injection),
collecting the wastewater that returns through the well after injection (Produced Water Handling), and,
managing the wastewater through disposal or reuse methods (Wastewater Disposal and Reuse).
The agency said that information gaps remain because, in some cases, needed data isn’t collected, isn’t available publicly or difficult to aggregate.
In places where the agency knows activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred, data that could be used to characterize hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals in the environment before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing were scarce.
“Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle,” the EPA wrote in a press release. Read the study here: www.epa.gov/hfstudy.
As if toxic waste from chemical manufacturing and other industrial processes weren’t enough, scientists say some streams are also being fouled by remnants of amphetamines — in some cases at high enough levels to alter the base of aquatic food chain.
A new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, traced the presence of illicit drugs at six stream sites around Baltimore, focusing on the Gwynns Falls watershed, which is part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long-Term Ecological Research program. Two rural streams were also sampled in the Oregon Ridge watershed, the closest forested region. Continue reading “Study tracks amphetamine pollution in Baltimore streams”→
Many streams are at risk from pharmaceutical pollution
Traces of pain-relieving substances, diabetes drugs and allergy medicines are widespread in small streams across the Southeast, especially in urban zones like Raleigh, North Carolina, the U.S. Geological Survey found in a new study.
Broad coalition of conservation groups oppose measure that could speed approval of natural gas export terminals
Pro-fossil fuel legislators in Congress hope they can help their campaign donors by putting the cart before the fracking horse. An amended version of the Senate’s Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 (S. 2012) includes provisions that would speed up the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of liquefied natural gas export terminals.
According to critics of the measure, that artificially increases the demand for U.S. natural gas and hits communities with additional health and climate risks. More than 370 organizations are urging the Senate to reject provisions in the bill that would encourage oil and gas fracking.
Local, regional controls help improve global picture
Global mercury emissions dropped by nearly a third between 1990 and 2010, according to a new study that tried to identify patterns and trends in mercury pollution.
Rapid economic development in Asia means higher mercury emissions, but reductions in North America were enough to offset the increases, according to scientists from China, Germany, Canada and the U.S.
Mercury is a metallic element that poses environmental health risks to both wildlife and humans when converted to methylmercury in ecosystems. It can be converted into gaseous emissions during various industrial activities, as well as natural processes like volcanic eruptions. Continue reading “Study tracks big drop in global mercury emissions”→
Environmentalists say new rule is to weak; industry asks Congress to step into the fray
The EPA’s new smog-fighting ozone standard is likely headed down the same path as the agency’s other recent initiatives to improve the environment.
Like the recently updated wetlands rule and the Clean Power Plan, the new ozone limit was immediately criticized from all sides. Environmental advocates said the agency ignored its own experts when it set the new limit at 70 parts per billion. Industry claims the new rule will cut profits and cost jobs. Continue reading “EPA sets new ozone standard but faces challenges”→