Drilling danger ‘greater than previously understood’

February 28, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

This Sunday’s New York Times had a major story on the oil- and gas-drilling boom that concluded:

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

In other words, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water taken in by all these plants is safe.

8 Responses to “Drilling danger ‘greater than previously understood’”

  1. chemop says:

    We can have jobs and affordable energy, or we can all go hug trees and freeze to death. My vote is for the former.

    Ken, it isn’t a sterile world. There are few absolutes, therefore most things in life are a compromise of some sort. Get over it.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I’m not sure who in that NY Times story is arguing that the world is or should be sterile or who in that story is arguing for absolutes.

    And interestingly, there’s been some recent research that suggests that 100 percent renewable energy is possible by 2030, http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-percent-renewable-energy.html


  3. chemop says:

    I won’t aruge that 100% renewable energy will not be available by then. My question is, will we be able to afford it?

  4. Sensible says:

    There is no such thing as absolutes. There is a way to perform this exercise safely, without damaging people’s livelihoods, water supplies, and neighborhoods. But, what we have is a legislature that cowtows to industry, doesn’t listen to its people, and a regulatory system that provides a wink and nod whenever something terrible happens instead of providing the appropriate level of ‘guidance’.

    Why can’t we, the people of West Virginia, and the USA, expect more out of our legislators, corporate captains, and the public servants we charge to uphold the laws, and ethics, of our society?

    It is time to hold people accountable for the damages they create. And the lawmakers accountable for the laws they don’t uphold.

  5. Steve says:

    I think we would have better public policy on this and other issues if we could all just agree that we want affordable energy, safe drinking water, clean air, and an environment that is as intact as possible in the face of population growth and economic activity. If those are our goals, it is foolish to assume that industry, whose acknowledged responsibility is to generate profits, will share the same goals. This doesn’t have to be a choice between our jobs or our energy versus our environment, and those who would make it so may have other agendas. The real choice before us is how to have jobs and energy and the environment. To make that choice, responsible regulation of private, for-profit industry to protect public resources such as water,air and wildlife must be driven by citizens, working through our legislatures and our government agencies. Without that, we will not get what we all want. So can we just stop throwing stones at each other and acknowledge that we all have to work together?

  6. Jerry says:

    What a shocker: “the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”
    You better believe they are. But what is the overwhelming factor in making our economic decisions? The answer is how much money can we make right now?
    There’s no consideration of what the consequences will be 10 years down the road – unless that directly affects the decision maker personally. Will we make money? Will this grow the company? Will this make the stockholders happy? Then do it.
    This is a fact of life about ANY company out to make money – which is of course their main reason of existence.
    And this is why companies should never be allowed to regulate their industry, ESPECIALLY industries that by nature affect the rest of us – mainly extractive industries and their related users, such as coal/natural gas and power companies.
    Some time ago I read a letter to the editor in a Charleston paper from the then-head of Walker machinery, in which he stated in all seriousness that “mountaintop removal is not destructive.” Now we are hearing similar statements emerging from proponents of natural gas drilling. I realize that we need both coal and natural gas for energy, at least for the immediate future, and am willing to compromise on a policy that recognizes that AND the importance of maintaining the environment. When do you think we will see that stance from our Legislative and industry leaders?

  7. elkinsdweller says:

    From National Geographic
    Natural Gas Co. -and- Environmental Defense Fund. Working together to develop gas resources using BMP’s …at the gas company’s initiative.
    It can be done.

  8. Jerry says:

    That’s a real feel-good story for the gas company, and I’m sure it accomplished their goal of putting some fears at bay for the moment in that area. BMPs are great things to have, the logging industry has had them for years – with mixed results at best.
    Unfortunately we get back to the original problem of an industry policing itself. I can accept the possiblity of a handful of companies (going out on a limb here) that will do what they can to follow BMPs, but what about the majority that follow the natural business model of doing the least amount to profit the most? Following BMPs costs money. Driling companies are in existence to make money.

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