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Fracking Wastewater Killed Plant Life in Study

Jul 11, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Fracking wastewater can be deadly to plant life according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.   The study found that dousing an area of forest with flowback water from hydraulic fracturing kills groundcover immediately, and trees within a couple of years.

Representatives of the natural gas industry have disputed this new study because of the large volume of fracking flowback water that was used.  But according to a report from the Harrisburg Patriot-News, drilling accidents in Pennsylvania have allowed large quantities of fracking fluid to spill onto the ground, resulting in vegetation die-offs similar to what was seen in this new study.   Truck accidents that resulted in fracking wastewater spills also caused damage to vegetation in that state.

This new study was conducted by scientist Mary Beth Adams, who doused a quarter-acre plot of land in West Virginia's Fernow Experimental Forest (located within the Monongahela National Forest) with 75,000 gallons of fracking fluid.   Shockingly, drillers in West Virginia are permitted to dispose of fracking fluid in precisely that way, though other states - like Pennsylvania - forbid it.

According to Adams, testing found that surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold as a result of the fracking fluids.  Though the contaminants leached out of the soil within two years, by then the damage was done.  Groundcover exposed to the fracking water died almost immediately, while leaves on trees began to turn brown after two days.  Within two years, more than half of 150 trees in the area died. 

Adams blamed the vegetation die-off on the high salt content of the fracking fluid.

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