Spock would have a fit. We humans have an amazing gift for ignoring logic.
Why, for instance, would we think putting salt on our winter roads is bad because it pollutes nearby water and wetlands, yet we’re willing to accept water laced with radioactive and chemically laced salts we would not allow on our dinner tables, declaring them “safe when used as directed.”
Salt has some drawbacks. It is increasingly expensive, especially when winter is harder than expected and road maintainers discovered there was more ice occurring than they bought ice to treat. Like many other products, price is likely to increase with the need of buyers to resupply.
The more important problem is in spring, as the spring melt washes it, concentrated, into nearby streams and fields where it is poisonous to the food supply of humans and other critters.
Synthetic salt is safer, if not cheaper, than mined salt. The liquid version can be sprayed on the road before ice forms, preventing at least some of the danger, and another type could be mixed with sand to melt ice that had formed.
But waste from fracking – known in the industry by the gentler term, “unconventional drilling” – for oil and natural gas. The process has drillers sending their wells more than a mile into the earth, then turning their equipment horizontally and drilling several more miles to create channels in gas-bearing shale.
Operators then pump a few million gallons of chemically-laced water under high pressure into the new well. The pressurized solution cracks the shale and releases the gas. In its rush to escape is subterranean prison, the gas chases the poisonous water back to the surface – fortified with a high concentration of radioactive and salty materials –where it is collected for later disposition.
A potential method of disposal was to spray it on Pennsylvania’s winter roads, in place of the previous salt solutions. That practice was halted in 2016 amid outcry from environmentally aware citizens who objected to the polluted drilling waste essentially being dumped into the state’s rivers and streams.
An effort now in the state legislature would legalize use of drilling wastewater, from so-called “conventional drilling” – similar to “unconventional drilling” but generally not as deep underground.
A new study by Penn State researchers published in the journal Science of The Total Environment found oil and gas drilling production wastewater (OGPW) to carry dangers similar to those of “unconventional” wastewater, with pollutants that can sicken or kill humans and other creatures.
“We found the dust suppression efficacy of all OGPW (oil and gas drilling production wastewater) to be less than commercial products and alternative byproducts such as waste soybean oil,” the study’s authors wrote. “In addition, OGPW lost efficacy following simulated rain events, which would require repeated applications of OGPW to maintain dust suppression.”
In other words, the stuff does not hold down dust, and rain washes it into the ground and nearby waterways.
The environmental organization PA Environment, in its August 19 blog post, quoted DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management Director Kurt Klapowski saying, “I don’t think we would have any objection to working with (the PA crude oil development advisory council) and the legislature to try to figure out a way to develop [data to support a road dumping program].”
Despite a study in hand indicating the waste material is less effective and more dangerous than drillers claim it to be, Klapowski seems to be saying DEP will find data to support using the wastewater on the roads.
Logic would seem to demand the agency charged with protecting our waters err on the side of protecting our water. Alas, logic seems to have escaped once more.
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