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Fracking wastewater dumped in B'more?

Fracking wastewater dumped in B'more?

There's no hydraulic fracturing for Marcellus shale natural gas in Maryland yet, but apparently the state already has been on the receiving end of some of the wastes from the controversial drilling technique.

Wastewater from "hydrofracking" operations in Pennsylvania got shipped to Baltimore last year and passed through the city's Back River wastewater treatment plant, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Tom Pelton, who reported it in the group's Bay Daily blog.

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Clean Harbors, a company that handles industrial wastes, disposed of 50,000 gallons a day at Back River "for a few months" early last year, Pelton says he was informed by the Maryland Department of the Environment.  The company treated the wastewater beforehand to remove metals, MDE told Pelton.   It also tested it and found "no detectable levels" of radiation in the liquid, which is a concern that's been raised about fracking wastes lately.

Radioactive contaminants have been reported in the "flowback" water pumped out of wells drilled in Pennsylvania using hydraulic fracturing, the New York Times reported earlier this week.  Much of the fracking wastewater is disposed of at municipal sewage treatment plants there, the Times said, but those facilities lack the capacity to remove radioactive contaminants, so they're likely getting into  rivers like the Susquehanna, a backup drinking water supply for the Baltimore area. Likely is the best that can be said because state and federal governments apparently don't uniformly require testing for radioactive contaminants in wastewater.

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Back River, which receives the treated wastewater from the city's sewage plant, is not a drinking water source for anyone because it's brackish. But one of the comments on Bay Daily raises another concern - that the drilling fluids often contain certain chemical compounds that can be lethal to Chesapeake Bay oysters at levels even below what can be readily detected.

(Settling tanks at Back River wastewater treatment plant. 2010 Photo by Colby Ware, special to The Sun)

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