May 25, 2016

Study shows contamination lingers after the boom

By Edna Sailor

"The study shows clear evidence of direct water contamination from fracking," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Vengosh was the featured speaker at an environmental forum in New Town. He has been studying the effects of hydraulic fracturing throughout the world since 2010.

Vengosh released the findings of the new study on Bakken oil and gas wastewater spills in April. The study was published in the journal Environmental and Science Technology. It was the first of its kind to systematically examine the chemistry and quality of spills in areas of unconventional oil extraction in the Bakken region. The study involved two brine spill areas near Mandaree including the Bear Den site where a million gallons of brine spilled. Four years after spill site areas near Mandaree, no growth has returned to the contaminated area. The damage is still highly visible.

What is not so visible are the contaminants left behind from the spill. Vengosh and his team of researchers took samples of both water and soil for analysis and found high levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and other contaminants as well as high salt levels. Streams polluted by the wastewater contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health. Soil at the spill sites was contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element found in brine. The radium chemically attached to the soil after the spill water was released.


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