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Beware This Fracking Waste Disposal Method That Puts Everyone in Danger

Winter in Pennsylvania is glorious…for about two weeks.

After that, the beauty of the snow-covered trees palls, and you realize that you still have about two months of morning commutes across icy highways and evening commutes through driving snow. You wake up more often to gray skies and slush rather than the sun shining brightly across new-fallen snow.

Winter weather is also an annoyance to state, county, and municipal government officials. These are the people tasked with keeping our roads safe and clean—a job that is surprisingly expensive. Salt is cheap when you’re buying it as a table condiment; it’s absurdly costly when you’re buying it by the ton to melt snow and ice from the streets. Governments in the Mid-Atlantic States are already wrestling with tough budget decisions. Buying salt just to throw it away on the roads every winter seems both silly and wasteful.

And then someone had an idea. “Why buy road salt when we could use something else that we already want to get rid of?” he asked. “Let’s use fracking waste to de-ice the roads!”

Is this a great idea, or what?

Fracking—short for “hydraulic fracturing”—is a method for extracting natural gas by blasting a high-pressure stream of water deep underground. The water breaks through layers of brittle shale rock to release the gas that has been trapped underneath.

But the water used in this process isn’t simply water. More correctly called fracking fluid, it is water that has been blended with dozens of chemicals and additives. Each energy company has a different formula for fracking fluid, and all those recipes are considered trade secrets. However, some fracking fluids have been analyzed, and the list of chemicals used includes acids, volatile organic compounds, toxic petroleum distillates, and substances known to cause cancer.

Worse still, some of this fracking fluid washes back to the surface, propelled by bubbles of natural gas. Fracking wastewater contains all the hazardous compounds in the original fluid plus dissolved salts, heavy metal compounds, and even radioactive substances from deep underground. Wastewater is so toxic that it cannot be purified by conventional water treatment plants, and far too dangerous to mix with surface waters such as lakes or rivers.

But the wastewater does contain a high level of salt that can effectively help clean icy roads. In recent weeks, pro-fracking advocates have been strongly pushing for concentrated wastewater, called fracking brine, to be used as a road de-icer in New York State.

The plan has been dogged by opposition, though, and several New York counties have passed laws banning the practice in their jurisdiction. Opponents point out that the brine doesn’t just vanish when spread on roads; eventually, melted snow and ice—now contaminated by the whole spectrum of fracking wastewater poisons—flow into sewers or ditches and eventually pollute waterways. Using brine to melt snow isn’t a safe means to dispose of wastewater, but a way to speed up the release of toxic chemicals into the water supply.

This can’t happen in Pennsylvania, can it?

Pennsylvanians who are relieved that this cockamamie proposal is being considered only in New York should reconsider: the idea started here. Almost a year ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit for treated fracking waste to be spread on roads, fields, and sidewalks. The DEP was forced to withdraw permission because it did not follow all the necessary rules in awarding the permit, but it left the door open for other people to apply for similar permits in the future.

This is a stealthy campaign to make fracking seem normal and acceptable—or even vital to our way of life. If fracking waste can be classified as a “beneficial use” material, then it becomes much harder for future advocates to stop abusive fracking practices in the Commonwealth.

The time has come to stop letting big energy companies put the lives (and health) of ordinary Pennsylvanians at risk. Attorney Jon Ostroff and his team at Frackcident Injury Law are leading the way on a case-by-case basis, making the fracking industry pay for the damage they do. If you or a friend has been hurt by exposure to fracking poisons, injured by an energy company vehicle, or otherwise victimized, reach out to our Philadelphia fracking injury lawyers to get your questions answered. Report your case using our online contact form or call our phone line at (855) 880-6667. Give us a chance to hear your story and explain how we can help.