Considering what to do about drilling waste is not for the faint of heart, Graber soon found. A daunting array of agencies regulate the process, but important loopholes remain. Scientists say they need more facts. Activists who fear fracking and seek cleaner energy collide with neighbors who want jobs, and with a powerful industry that provides a lot of them.
“It’s an extremely complex web of risk and technology, and there’s a need for very strong regulations and enforcement,” said Amy Mall, a senior advocate on the National Resources Defense Council’s dirty energy team who has studied fracking regulation.
The water that comes from gas wells in the Marcellus can contain a long list of substances you’ve probably barely heard of along with poisons like arsenic and naturally occurring radioactive material like radium 226 and 228. It is far saltier than the ocean. That alone makes it deadly to most plants and freshwater life.
Some experts and activists fear that an industry producing a trillion gallons a year of wastewater nationwide—2.6 billion gallons of that were churned out in Pennsylvania last year—is heading for a disposal reckoning.