Researchers have developed new chemical tracers to identify potentially toxic wastewater contamination that can result from hydraulic fracturing operations. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a controversial mining operation that uses high-pressure mixes of water, proprietary chemicals and sand to blast shale rock for the natural gas deposits inside. The process has drawn criticism for its environmental as well as its geologic impacts (fracking has been linked to micro-earthquakes in states previously unknown for their seismicity), but of greatest concern is its potential toxification of underground water supplies.
Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment.
The tracers, which were created by a team of U.S. and French researchers, have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.
This gives us new forensic tools to detect if ‘frac fluids' are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose, said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.
By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of frac fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells,” Vengosh said.
Using the tracers, scientists can determine where fracturing fluids have or haven't been released …
The fracking process is increasingly coming under public and governmental scrutiny. Earlier this month, ExxonMobil released a report for its shareholders that outlines how it manages risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, and in May, a draft EPA memo leaked to DeSmogBlog.com detailed stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing permitting and made clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act.
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