Police in northeast Pennsylvania are looking for clues and possible witnesses to an allegedly intentional spillage of close to 20,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wastewater.
According to a report from The (Elmira, N.Y.) Star Gazette, officials with Pennsylvania State Police, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Talisman Energy are investigating the spill which occurred Tuesday morning in Bradford County, Pa., a rural area on the state’s New York border. Police are treating the matter as a criminal investigation as it appears someone “intentionally tampered” with a storage tank containing waste water from a nearby fracking well.
Bradford County is almost directly in the middle of the massive Marcellus shale formation underlying a large portion of the Mid Atlantic region. Thousands of fracking wells have peppered the landscape from Ohio and West Virginia, through Pennsylvania and New York to New Jersey in recent years as federal and state regulations have eased restrictions on the controversial drilling process.
Fracking employs the use of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, a drill and a mix of at least 600 chemicals (containing at least 60 known toxins) which are injected into an underground well until it reaches underground rock formations. In the Mid Atlantic and in 30 states across the U.S., natural gas is released from underground shale when the chemicals and drill reach the formation. The natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation is worth in upwards of $3 trillion and with very lax regulations in place, the race has been on for numerous energy companies looking to score large profits before environmental safety restrictions take hold.
At the end of the fracking process, much of the water and drilling fluid rushes back to the surface, where it is supposed to be collected and stored or disposed. Waste fracking fluid is highly toxic and briny. At this site in Bradford County, the waste fracking fluid was held in large containment tanks until it should be taken away for treatment. Police believe someone intentionally allowed the toxic waste water to flow from its tank. The report indicates the entire sum of the spilled fluids emptied in an area around it designed to accept spilled fluids. It was suctioned back into the tank later that day. The area where it was spilled has an underlying liner which is supposed to prevent any spilled waste water from seeping into the ground.
Though this incident appears intentional, many accidents at fracking sites involving the spilling of drilling fluids or waste water pose serious risks to the environment and public health. Often times the spilled fluids will not empty into a specially-designed area and could leak into the ground or local waterways.
People living within a mile of an active fracking well face a serious risk of contamination from methane gas and other contaminants even if the process is conducted “safely.” The risk of spills and accidents at fracking wells only add to the dangers. Those living closest to fracking wells have experienced methane contamination of their private water wells and in many cases have been forced to find alternative sources of fresh water to use on a daily basis. Neighbors of wells have also complained of breathing troubles and eye and skin irritations and believe the long-term effects of living near a fracking well could be far worse.
Police and DEP officials could not confirm the cause of the spill on Tuesday because the investigation was ongoing, the report indicates