New threat to the Bay: Hydraulic fracking

March 05, 2011

Little attention has been paid by The Sun to developments in Pennsylvania that have the potential to affect the drinking water quality and food chain throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Exploration for natural gas all over the country has increased dramatically using a relatively new process known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting large quantities of water at high pressure along with a mixture of sand and chemicals deep into the ground to release the gas trapped there. When the gas is released, it rises to the surface, bringing with it the fracking fluid that contains the chemical additives but also heavy metals and radioactive materials.

Most of this toxic liquid is collected in tanker trucks and hauled to local waste-water treatment plants. But some of it leaches into underground aquifers. Moreover, many treatment plants are not designed to process this type of waste, so it ends up in the rivers that supply our drinking water.

In nearby Pennsylvania there are reportedly some 71,000 active gas wells. The amount of radioactive material dumped from Pennsylvania's treatment plants into the Monongahela River exceeds the maximum federal standards for drinking water by hundreds or even thousands of times. The Monongahela feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, so its water reaches more than 6 million people in the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Baltimore areas.

A 2009 Environmental Protection Agency consultant's study that has never been made public concluded that some treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling contaminants and were probably violating the law. Another confidential study by the drilling industry concluded that the radioactive waste from drilling operations cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. Even so, the natural gas industry has managed to obtain exemptions from seven of 15 major federally mandated environmental laws.

And where is the EPA? We're told that the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is recommending reducing funding to the EPA, while some potential presidential candidates have proposed eliminating the EPA altogether.

Is this just another case of allowing lobbyists to interfere in the health and welfare of the American people while our politicians stand by with their campaign contribution piggybanks on the table?

Sidney M. Levy, Baltimore

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