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The fracking industry likes to call its product "natural gas," but the natural consequence of its activity is the production of billions of gallons of cancer-causing wastewater.
A new study published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology titled, "Malignant human cell transformation of Marcellus Shale gas drilling flow back water," is the first study of its kind to confirm widely held suspicions concerning the carcinogenicity of fracking pollution.
The new collaborative study was conducted by scientists at esteemed institutions in both the U.S. and China and found that so-called "flow back" fracking wastewater induced malignant changes in human bronchial epithelial cells consistent with the cancerous phenotype. The same fracking wastewater was injected into mice, with 5 of the 6 developing .2 cm to .6 cm tumors as early as 3 months after injection, and with the control mice forming no tumors after 6 months. The authors concluded that their results indicate "flow back water is capable of neoplastic transformation in vitro," i.e. fracking wastewater is capable of producing cancer in mammals.
In order to understand how, and to what extent, this fracking wastewater is produced, read the following background information:
Natural gas is believed to possibly be a bridge to transitioning from coal dependence. Currently natural gas fuels nearly 40% of the U.S. electricity generation, and the Marcellus Shale formation in the Appalachian Basin is on the forefront of gas-shale drilling for natural gas production in the United States (Pritz, 2010). Mining natural gas is not new, but the volume has soared in recent years because the new technique of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (HVHHF). The concern surrounding the environmental, public health and social impacts of this method has increased accordingly. HVHHF is an advanced technology that injects water, sand, and other ingredients at very high pressure vertically into a well about 6000 to 10,000 ft deep (Penningroth et al., 2013). The high pressure creates small fractures in the rock that extend out as far as 1000 ft away from the well. The pressure is reduced after the fractures are created, which allows water from the well to return to the surface, also known as flow back water (Veil, 2010). The flow back water contains complex proprietary chemical mixtures, but also naturally occurring toxins such as metals, volatile organics, and radioactive compounds that are destabilized during gas extraction (Warner et al., 2012). On average, about 5.5 million gallons of water is used on average to hydraulically fracture each shale gas well, and 30% to 70% of the volume returns as flow back water (Veil, 2010). Currently discharge options of flow back water are: inject underground through an onsite or offsite disposal well; discharge to a nearby surface water body; transport to a municipal wastewater treatment plant or publicly owned treatment works; transport to a commercial industrial wastewa- ter treatment facility; and/or reuse for a future hydraulic fracturing job either with or without some remediation (Pritz, 2010). Some commercial wastewater disposal facilities accept flow back and discharge the water after treatment under their own national pollutant discharge elimination system permits (Veil, 2010).