Disposal of Hazardous Wastewater from Hydraulic Fracturing

Charlotte Weisberg
Biology, 2017

Research Paper: 


The process of hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas from shale is a currently booming field in the United States energy industry and offers a promising outlook to those looking for a “cleaner” energy source. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking, as it is often referred to, involves drilling deep into Earth’s rock layers and blasting a mixture of chemicals and water down at high pressures to obtain natural gas. Although this technology offers a seemingly more environmentally friendly way to fill the extreme energy demands of our nation, it brings along with it an enormous amount of unregulated waste.

With this waste being an issue of serious environmental and economic concern, many individuals have taken a strong stance on the topic of fracking as a whole. The large area of concern over this waste is simply the lack of federal regulation on disposal of it. If the federal government could impose stronger regulations or look for alternative methods of disposal, the topic of fracking and its waste could become much less controversial. With waste more strongly regulated, the environmental concerns over fracking in general might lessen as well.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, many citizens or students at Lehigh University would consider themselves to be free from these issues of fracking because fracking does not occur within the area. Yet, these individuals are far from clear of the issues of fracking, as waste disposal from fracking occurs in almost every corner of the country. Many forms of wastewater disposal that are currently used have been shown as having grave environmental and health impacts in the areas which they are implemented. So although Lehigh Valley residents may be free of the dangers of fracking currently, it is still an issue to care about beyond our backyards. It is important to become aware of the facts of waste management from fracking so that we can assist in pushing for more regulation for the entire state and potentially the country.

This issue comes to the forefront on a global scale as well. With both developing and developed countries across the world facing issues of severe drought and water shortages, any practices that can aid in conserving water are essential. Fracking currently uses approximately two to eight million gallons of fresh water to frack a single well (Schmidt 2013). These wells can be fracked multiple times over their usage lifetime as well and almost all of the water ends up being disposed of. For this reason alone, the topic of reforming wastewater disposal methods should be in everyone’s interest. If technology can be improved in a way which would lessen the amount of water being used to frack these wells, or create a method to recycle a portion of the water, it is worth investing in.