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Fracking and hazardous waste

Nova Scotia has followed Quebec, and has launched its own investigation into the potential environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing to produce shale gas, especially the impacts on water.

Meanwhile, the US EPA is anxious to formally start its own review.  Its Science Advisory Board will hold two full-day sessions later this month to review the Agency’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan. SAB’s preliminary comments on the draft plan suggest it needs work, illustrating how difficult it is to effectively research (much less regulate) rapidly growing technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing of shale gas (and coalbed methane.)  The overall purpose of the EPA study is to understand the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. The scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.

The Agency will revise the study plan in response to the SAB’s comments and promptly begin the study. Initial research results are expected by the end of 2012 with a goal for a report in 2014. But the EPA may have to act earlier, given the spreading conflicts between water users and energy extraction, illustrated by lawsuits such as Ernst v Encana and the Cabot Oil case. At least one US law firm is actively canvassing for fracking plaintiffs with a dedicated website. And there is even a movie about fracking: Gasland.

The New York State Assembly is already considering a law to designate fracking liquids “hazardous waste“. If it passes, fracking could become much more expensive, and could require hazardous waste disposal permits, which are very difficult to obtain.

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