A recent report published by the U.S. Forest Service in the Journal of Environmental Quality has found that the ‘waste water’ left over from the process of shale gas extraction known as fracking can be extremely damaging, indeed lethal, to vegetation. This is on top of other possible side effects of the process; such as earthquakes and combustible water.
In 2008 an area of land less than half an acre in area had 75,000 gallons of fluid that had been used in the fracking process spead over it over a period of two days. This section of the Fernow Experimental Forest (found within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia) which the Forest Service uses for research and is also being drilled by the gas company Berry Energy was then absorbed to see if the fluid had had any ecological impact. Almost all of the ground vegetation in the area died within an extremely short period following the releases of the fluid. Within a few days trees had begun to shed leaves which were at this point brown and wilted. Of 150 affected tress 56% would eventually die. The exact chemical composition of the waste water was not known as such information is considered to be proprietary by shale gas drilling companies. The Forest Service determined that the chemical make-up of the water was mainly sodium and calcium chloride as high levels of these compounds were found to be present in the topsoil.
Several states in the U.S. allow such waste water to be disposed of on land and issue permits for this purpose indicating that such types of pollution could increase as the shale gas industry develops. The Forest Service’s research concluded that it should be a ‘high priority’ to determine ways in which vegetation could be protected during land disposal of waste water and to develop a dosing standard for waste water.
It seems that new ways in which shale gas extraction pollutes and damages the environment are being found with regularity.