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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Frack Fluid is Intentionally Made Radioactive by Gas Drillers

Garbage in, garbage out
When you see this sign, it's too late.

This week the New York Times published Ian Urbina’s three-part series of articles on a subject we’ve been obsessing over on these pages since the new year: the disposal of wastewater from hydrofracked natural gas wells.

Urbina’s kickoff piece in Sunday’s Times dealt exhaustively with the radioactivity of wastewater produced by deep-well, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The process entails pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals a mile or more underground to force open fissures in shale beds, thus releasing trapped natural gas. Some of the frack fluid returns to the surface, bringing back with it radioactive materials like radium-226 that occur naturally underground but are dangerous when brought to the surface or if ingested in drinking water.

Urbina missed an aspect that we think is important: It’s not just frack fluid returning to the surface that’s radioactive. The frack fluid is intentionally made radioactive by gas drillers before it’s pumped into the ground.

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