Pennsylvania Mystery: Where’s the Fracking Pollution?

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


A recent report from Pennsylvania DEP to the EPA creates a great mystery; where is the fracking pollution and where are the dead fish, ruined streams, etc.

A couple of days ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a report it regularly makes to the EPA. It has the boring title of “2016 Final Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality  Monitoring and Assessment Report” and provides a nice summary of water quality in the Commonwealth. It is a government report and a little hard to wade through, but I did so and discovered it could really be thought of as a great mystery novel, although the ending is thoroughly anti-climatic. The mystery is this; where is the fracking pollution?

The 87-page report from DEP leaves no doubt there is no fracking pollution threat to any of Pennsylvania’s streams, lakes or groundwater. Here, in fact, is the list of identified threats with respect to groundwater contamination:

fracking pollutionNotice neither existing/active oil/gas wells or petroleum/fuel pipelines make the cut. Fracking pollution is not a high priority source of groundwater contamination in the Keystone State, according to DEP.

When it comes to streams, we find similar information. Here is another table from the report showing causes of stream impairments:

fracking pollution

Notice “petroleum activités” (which surely includes many things other than natural gas or fracking) doesn’t even register in the big picture with it being a source of impairment in only 63 instances out of 33,864 cases (effectively 0%). It’s not even listed as a cause in the case of lakes.

What is a major cause of impairment in the case of streams is abandoned mine drainage (AMD), which accounted for 5,607 or 17% of all cases. The report states:

The three main sources of nonpoint runoff resulting in degraded water quality in Pennsylvania are agriculture, abandoned mine drainage, and urban runoff.

And, this is what the DEP report says about that:

In 2014, DEP continued to implement their policy of promoting the voluntary use of mine influenced waters by the oil and gas industry and establish a framework by which mine influenced waters can be used for natural gas extraction. The use of these waters by the gas extraction industry helps to protect streams and makes water resources available for other uses.

Yes, Pennsylvania DEP says fracking, when it uses AMD water “helps to protect streams and makes water resources available for other uses.” That’s counter to the fractivist mantra, endlessly recycled by an empathetic lazy media, of course, but true. Rather, than fracking pollution, we have fracking water quality improvements.

Not only that, but here’s more:

Recycling of flowback and produced water from unconventional wells for new hydraulic fracturing operations reduces the amount of water to be withdrawn from freshwater sources in Pennsylvania and reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal or treatment. Act 47 enacted in 2015 encourages the use of treated mine water for hydraulic fracturing operations, which also reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal and treatment. Based upon the 2014 waste data submitted by the Oil and Gas Operators, nearly 90% of the flowback and produced water from unconventional wells has been recycled. This reduces the amount of water to be withdrawn from freshwater sources in Pennsylvania and reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal or treatment.

It’s getting better all the time, in other words, except for fantasy fish stories told by the likes of StateImpactPA.

fracking pollution

Last year, we reported on findings that Smallmouth Bass issues in the Susquehanna had nothing to dob with fracking. Fractivists were upset, of course, and didn’t want to believe it. They had eagerly bought into the hype churned out by the paid Heinz and Haas shills at StateImpactPA suggesting SmallMouth Bass problems were somehow the fault of fracking pollution. The truth is reiterated in this new DEP report:

PFBC data show that the smallmouth bass populations have been increasing for several years and have surpassed the pre-2005 catch rate medians at the middle Susquehanna River (from Sunbury to York Haven, Figure 6). The second highest catch rate on record (2016) demonstrates some measure of population recovery. Smallmouth bass population characteristics are also returning to levels consistent with the 1990s (Figure 7), suggesting that 2016 adult catch rates are not simply a one-year outlier. The balance of old versus young in the population is now consistent with what was seen in the 1990s. This is more cause for optimism that the population is rebounding. In addition, data collected by PFBC shows a clear trend of decreasing disease in the middle Susquehanna River with record low disease in 2016…

The increase in the smallmouth bass population and decrease in disease rates in recent years and especially in 2016 is a good indication this was a disease problem not related to water quality.

fracking pollution

The information on the Susquehanna River generally is also encouraging. Water quality data for the river at Wilkes-Barre, after passing through the heart of gas land in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania showed improving conditions with respect to everything that could be effectively analyzed, except for iron (which, presumably, has little to do with fracking). This included sulfates, total nitrogen, total nitrate and total organic carbon.

Finally, there’s also this:

In January 2013, DEP announced it would undertake a study to assess levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in the by-products associated with oil and natural gas development. DEP began studying radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids, and drill cuttings, as well as transportation, storage, and disposal of drilling wastes. This effort included a study of radon levels in natural gas to ensure that public health and the environment continue to be protected…

On January 15, 2015, DEP announced the results of its TENORM Study, which analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania. While the study outlines recommendations for further study, it concluded there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure due to oil and gas development.

So, the mystery remains. Where is the fracking pollution? Where is it hiding?


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