Water Contamination Found Downstream of West Virginia Injection Well

originally posted on April 6, 2017


WHEELING -Researchers from the University of Missouri and Duke University say they found high levels of chemicals downstream from a West Virginia fracking wastewater disposal site, but industry leaders said this contamination is likely due to a surface spill rather than an injection well failure.

“Approximately 36,000 of these disposal wells are currently in operation across the U.S., and little work has been done to evaluate their potential impacts on nearby surface water,” said Christopher Kassotis, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke. “Given the large number of disposal wells in the U.S., it is critical for further investigation into the potential human and environmental health impacts.”

Kassotis and Susan Nagel, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health in the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri, studied an injection well site along Wolf Creek near Fayetteville, W.Va. This creek eventually leads to the New River, which is widely known for its New River Gorge Bridge.

“Surface water samples collected on the disposal facility site and immediately downstream exhibited considerably greater endocrine disrupting chemicals activity than surface water samples collected immediately upstream and in a nearby reference stream,” Nagel said. “The level of EDC activity was within the range or higher than the level known to impact the health of aquatic organisms.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. Some of these substances may be found in products as common as plastic bottles, metal cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.

The banned chemical DDT is an example of an endocrine disruptor, as is the industrial byproduct, dioxin.

Some widely used chemicals frackers add to their millions of gallons of water when working include hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, isopropanol, glutaraldehyde, petroleum distillate, guar gum, ammonium persulfate, formamide, borate salts, citric acid, potassium chloride and sodium carbonate. Once fracking is complete, many companies work to recycle their water so that it can be used multiple times onsite.

However, frackers will eventually need to transport the water for disposal at an injection well site. By this time, the water can contain radioactive elements released from the shale formation such as radium and uranium, in addition to the chemicals added to the fracking fluid.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state features 233 injection wells classified as either active or being drilled, mostly in the northeastern and southeastern quadrants. In the Upper Ohio Valley, these include one in the Barnesville area; one in the area of Piedmont Lake; and one in Monroe County. Previously, a 2.6-mile deep injection well at the top of Kirkwood Heights also accepted brine, but this is no longer an active operation.

However, there are numerous injection wells located along the Ohio River in Washington, Athens and Meigs counties that serve as dumping areas for water used in both Ohio and West Virginia, in addition to several injection wells in Guernsey and Noble counties.

Data from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection show that most of the state’s 36 active brine disposal wells are in the southern part of the state.

Energy In Depth is a research and public relations organization founded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 2009. Writing on behalf of Energy In Depth, Seth Whitehead said the study by Nagel and Kassotis “offers up more of the familiar exaggerations and myths that have long been debunked.”

“Spills are obviously bad, so it’s not all that surprising that the researchers found some environmental impacts at this site. But by focusing on a problem area that is much more the exception than the rule, the researchers fail to provide any insight on increasing knowledge about the risks of responsible development,” Whitehead stated.

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