How natural gas drillers dispose of possibly radioactive fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania has gotten the attention of many in the state. Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, is asking questions after The New York Times reported that some Pennsylvania natural drillers are shipping potentially toxic and radioactive hydraulic fracking wastewater to sewage treatment plants not equipped to treat it. This fracking wastewater, which has only been partially treated, is later released into rivers and streams used as sources of drinking water by millions of Pennsylvanians.
The New York Times fracking report has also prompted two Pennsylvania water companies – the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Pennsylvania America Water Co. – to announce new testing protocols to ensure that their drinking water is free of radioactivity.
For its fracking expose, the Times drew on thousands of pages of previously secret government and industry documents that revealed fracking wastewater “contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle”. The document cache also included studies which found that dumping partially-treated radioactive fracking waste into waterways does not sufficiently dilute it.
According to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Senator Casey has written to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for increased inspections of drinking-water resources “and to account for why sufficient inspections haven’t taken place.”
“No threat to Pennsylvania drinking water should be taken lightly; especially one involving radioactive material,” Senator Casey said in his letters. “Alarming information has been raised that must be fully investigated.”
Among other things, the Senator wants to know why the state DEP hasn’t inspected drinking water intake sites in several years, and why the EPA did not disclose results of studies cited by the Times to Pennsylvania regulators.
Meanwhile, WTAE TV reported on its noon broadcast today that the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which serves the city of Pittsburgh, and Pennsylvania American Water Co. said they expect to begin testing water for radioactivity in the coming weeks.
According to WTAE, the announcements follow a resolution passed this week by Pittsburgh City Council in response to The New York Times report. The resolution, sponsored by council member Doug Shields, also calls on Pennsylvania’s governor to include funding in the state budget to inform the public of the condition of their drinking water.