Frackers often treat their wastewater a little bit like sewage, passing it through water treatment plants and then flushing it into streams and rivers. It may be an improvement on pumping the stuff back into the ground, which can trigger earthquakes, but new research reveals that this can be a dangerously shitty approach to managing frack water.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, entails injecting water and chemicals into the ground to break up underground rocks and release oil and gas. When that water burbles back to the surface, however, it comes back laced with traces of metals, isotopes, and other pollutants that normally sit harmlessly deep beneath the soil.
Duke University researchers studied a fracker's wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania and found it removed more than 90 percent of the radioactive radium from the wastewater. But that's not nearly enough: The researchers report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that the radioisotopes that are slipping through the cracks in the treatment system are accumulating in alarming levels in Blacklick Creek, where the wastewater is dumped.