NRDC report urges control and reuse of fracking wastewater

The US Environmental Protection Agency and individual states should ban or more strictly regulate the discharge of shale gas wastewater (SGW) from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). They should also update pollution control standards for centralised waste treatment facilities (CWTs) that accept SGW.

These are the two leading recommendations of an issue brief published in May by the non-profit National Resources Defense Council, In Fracking’s Wake: New Rules are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater (IB:12-05-A).

It also says that reuse of wastewater for additional fracking can offer many benefits (although these benefits can in some cases be offset by energy use and the generation of concentrated residuals). Where appropriate, the report says, states should encourage or even require the reuse and recycling of SGW.

The report states that the wastewater byproducts of fracking – flowback and produced water – contain potentially harmful pollutants, including salts, organic hydrocarbons (sometimes referred to simply as oil and grease), inorganic and organic additives, and naturally occurring radioactive material.

(Advanced wastewater systems, usually involving membranes, are increasingly being trialled to treat these wastes – Ed.)