April 8, 2013
Opposition is brewing to injection
wells for wastewater from fracking
By KIRK ROSS
Coastal Review Online
resolution up for a vote next Monday evening by the Dare County
commissioners and a position paper from a regional water resources
group in Onslow County are the latest indications of the fast-growing
coastal opposition to using coastal aquifers to eliminate wastewater
from hydraulic fracking.
The position paper by the Onslow Water
Resources Group says lifting the ban on the use of injection wells for
wastewater threatens coastal aquifers. The group, which is made up of
the Onslow Water and Sewer Authority, Jacksonville and Camp LeJeune,
was reacting to Senate Bill 76, which would lift the decades-old ban on
injection wells. A provision in the bill exempts “water produced from
subsurface geologic formations during the extraction of natural gas,
condensate, or oil in North Carolina” from the types of discharges
banned in injection wells.
Fracking companies pump millions of
gallon of water and toxic chemicals into the ground under high pressure
to fracture the bedrock and release the natural gas. They prefer
injecting the used fracking water into deep wells for disposal.
Hydrologists have said that the geology of the state’s Piedmont, where
most of the fracking will likely take place, isn’t conducive to
injection wells. The coastal plain, scientists say, would be the most
likely part of the state where such wells could be used, raising the
specter of tanker trucks hauling the toxic brew to the coast for
“The coastal groundwater system is complex, and the
injection of liquid wastes into this system would prove to be
detrimental,” the Onslow group states in its paper, which it has sent
to the N.C. General Assembly. “There are essentially no unusable
portions of the groundwater system in the Coastal Plain, and targeting
the saline portions as waste disposal reservoirs is based on lack of
understanding of the value of the resource to the current and future
viability of the region.”
The bill, which passed the N.C. Senate
on Feb. 27, could have a more difficult time in the state House where
Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, a hydrogeologist and environmental
engineer, and others have taken issue with the injection well language.
Catlin said last month the House would take a hard look at the
implications of lifting the ban on wastewater in injection wells.
bill has yet to be heard by a House committee. Its first scheduled stop
is in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development with hearings
also likely in the House Environment and Finance committees.
Spruill, a hydrologist at East Carolina University, helped to craft the
Onslow position paper and has worked with Dare County and other local
governments on similar resolutions. He said the use of injection wells
for the wastewater that’s spelled out in the legislation could
jeopardize a critical water resource for the coast.
“Throughout the entire coastal plain we rely on the aquifers,” he said.
Greenville, Kinston and Wilmington have significant surface water
reservoirs, he said. “Everybody else survives on groundwater from
coastal plain aquifers,” Spruill noted.
Contrary to the notion
that the saltwater aquifers on the coast are unused and therefore an
acceptable place for the wastewater, Spruill said several communities
are tapping aquifers that are prospects for the injection wells. Saline
aquifers are used as drinking-water sources in Pasquotank County, on
Hatteras Island in Dare County, Ocracoke Island and Emerald Isle and
are seen as potential sources in many other places.
said that the Marine Corps’ concern is based on the potential it sees
in using saline aquifers. Camp Pendleton in California recently
installed a reverse osmosis plant.
In addition to opposition in
Dare and Onslow counties, Currituck County and Wilmington have passed
resolutions calling on legislators not to allow the coasts aquifers to
be used for fracking wastewater.
The state banned the use of
injection wells for wastewater in 1972 after contamination of the Black
Creek Aquifer near Wilmington by Hercules Inc., which had been pumping
industrial wastewater into injection wells.
Rick Shiver, who
served as head of the state’s Division of Water Quality in Wilmington,
and was part of a team that worked on the state’s response to Hercules,
said the complexities of the coastal aquifer can’t be overlooked.
injection of wastewater is really tricky business,” he said. “It’s one
thing to extract water and another thing entirely to inject wastewater.”
complicating the issue, Shiver said, is that that composition of the
fracking wastewater has been closely guarded by industry.
“How can you make intelligent decisions about well injection if you don’t know what’s in the wastewater?” he asked.
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the North Carolina coast at www.nccoast.org.)
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