There has been lots of discussion in the media recently about the potential radioactivity of hydraulic fracturing wastewater from the natural gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania and across the Marcellus shale region. Did you know that this wastewater has been trucked for disposal to numerous locations -– including to Baltimore, for eventual release to Back River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary?
An industrial waste processing company in Baltimore called Clean Harbors last year received about 50,000 gallons a day of hydraulic fracturing wastewater for a few months in early 2010, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Clean Harbors treated the wastewater to remove metals, before sending the waste to Baltimore’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which eventually releases treated effluent to the Back River, the state agency said.
Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the environmental agency, said in an email that Clean Harbors tested the wastewater for radioactive materials, and found “no detectable levels.”
“Even if there had been some radioactivity in the drilling wastewaters, it would have been diluted first with the sewage at the Back River WWTP and then diluted further upon reaching surface water,” Apperson wrote. “It is extremely unlikely that there would be any detectable level of radiation in the discharge or in the receiving water.”
The Back River is not used for drinking water, Apperson added.
Another property of hydraulic fracturing wastewater that can pose a problem for fresh water streams and rivers–-high salt levels -–would not pose a problem to the Back River, which already is a mixture of salt water and fresh water, according to the state agency.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation