Scientists Just Pinpointed Another Example Of Fracking’s Environmental Impact

A dumping site for fracking fluids long suspected to be leaching into Wolf Creek, a West Virginia waterway with ties to a county’s water supply, has indeed contaminated the creek with multiple chemicals, a new U.S. Geological Survey study has found.

The “study demonstrates definitively that the stream is being impacted by [unconventional oil and gas extraction] wastewaters,” Denise Akob, USGS scientist and lead author of the study said. Unconventional oil and gas extraction refers to the many processes that involve hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

For this study, scientists in 2014 collected water and sediment samples upstream and downstream from Danny E. Webb Construction Inc.’s disposal site, which is still operational. Samples were then analyzed for a series of chemical markers that are known to be associated with fracking. “We were able to see some elements that are known to be associated with [unconventional oil and gas] wastewaters, including barium, bromide, calcium, chloride, sodium, lithium, and strontium,” Akob said.

They also found that microbial diversity near sampling sites decreased. Though small, microbes play an important role in ecosystems’ food webs, and Akob said changes in microbial community composition is an indication of ecological impact.

Questions remain. “The two big open questions right now are how are these wastewaters getting to the environment,” and “how far downstream do they go,” Akob said.

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