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Does Connecticut give a frack?

In June 2014, Governor Malloy signed Public Act No. 14-200, an act prohibiting the storage or disposal of fracking waste in the state of Connecticut. Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is the process of drilling into the earth and injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into shale, causing the rock to release oil and natural gas.

Fracking to extract oil from the earth is a method used in regions contained within the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits. New York and Pennsylvania both fall in the heart of the Marcellus shale formation, which contains a reserve of oil that is not only untapped but also in close proximity to several major cities. Fracking has downsides. The most problematic is the abundance of wastewater produced from the mixture injected into the rock. Water used in fracking is riddled with chemicals and waste products that make it hazardous. Treating fracking wastewater (called brine) is regulated on an inconsistent, state-to-state basis because it is exempt from national hazardous waste regulations and from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The only federal regulation requires that water does not go directly from the fracking site into surface water.

In addition to the chemical toxins found in the wastewater, the practice of fracking also contaminates its byproducts with radioactivity. All rocks emit some radiation, but the shale deposit of the Marcellus formation is particularly radioactive. The drilling deposits the radioactive material into the wastewater. The amount of radioactive material found in the brine from the Marcellus Shale formation is 15,000 times more than the background radiation found on Earth’s surface. The half-life of radium-226 (the form found in the Marcellus formation) is over 5,000 years, meaning that once it is on Earth’s surface, it is going to be there for a considerable amount of time.

Connecticut is not home to any fracking sites because, unlike neighboring states, Connecticut has no known natural gas deposits. But our proximity to fracking powerhouses such as New York and Pennsylvania means that we are a potential location for the storage and disposal of contaminated fracking water. This would affect water quality, since chemicals found within this wastewater include guar gum, petroleum distillate, triethanolamine zirconate and 2-butoxyethanol — not drinking water-friendly products.

The costs associated with trucking waste water will likely deter its transport. Nevertheless, in December 2014, public concern over this issue increased in both upstate New York and New York City. New York banned fracking until a competent and complete environmental analysis is conducted. But so much of New York’s infrastructure is built around the fracking industry, it is likely that the ban will be lifted, and the need to find waste water disposals sites will continue to raise concerns about water pollution.

Another way these toxins may cross state lines in the future is in the form of road salt. Some in the Marcellus shale reserve areas are advocating for the salt-ridden wastewater to be reused as road deicer. No state has taken up the idea, yet. Frack wastewater is difficult to process and dispose of; repurposing it with minimal processing is a feasible option some frack-centric states may choose to take.

Due to its location, Connecticut is at risk of contamination from the burdensome byproducts of fracking. This law helps insure cleaner water throughout the state, an appropriate precaution to protect water quality.

 

Cecilia Petricone is an intern at the Office of the Community Lawyer. She is a senior at Northwestern Regional High School.

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