Pennsylvania Mystery: Where’s the Fracking Pollution?

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


A recent report from Pennsylvania DEP to the EPA creates a great mystery; where is the fracking pollution and where are the dead fish, ruined streams, etc.

A couple of days ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a report it regularly makes to the EPA. It has the boring title of “2016 Final Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality  Monitoring and Assessment Report” and provides a nice summary of water quality in the Commonwealth. It is a government report and a little hard to wade through, but I did so and discovered it could really be thought of as a great mystery novel, although the ending is thoroughly anti-climatic. The mystery is this; where is the fracking pollution?

The 87-page report from DEP leaves no doubt there is no fracking pollution threat to any of Pennsylvania’s streams, lakes or groundwater. Here, in fact, is the list of identified threats with respect to groundwater contamination:

fracking pollutionNotice neither existing/active oil/gas wells or petroleum/fuel pipelines make the cut. Fracking pollution is not a high priority source of groundwater contamination in the Keystone State, according to DEP.

When it comes to streams, we find similar information. Here is another table from the report showing causes of stream impairments:

fracking pollution

Notice “petroleum activités” (which surely includes many things other than natural gas or fracking) doesn’t even register in the big picture with it being a source of impairment in only 63 instances out of 33,864 cases (effectively 0%). It’s not even listed as a cause in the case of lakes.

What is a major cause of impairment in the case of streams is abandoned mine drainage (AMD), which accounted for 5,607 or 17% of all cases. The report states:

The three main sources of nonpoint runoff resulting in degraded water quality in Pennsylvania are agriculture, abandoned mine drainage, and urban runoff.

And, this is what the DEP report says about that:

In 2014, DEP continued to implement their policy of promoting the voluntary use of mine influenced waters by the oil and gas industry and establish a framework by which mine influenced waters can be used for natural gas extraction. The use of these waters by the gas extraction industry helps to protect streams and makes water resources available for other uses.

Yes, Pennsylvania DEP says fracking, when it uses AMD water “helps to protect streams and makes water resources available for other uses.” That’s counter to the fractivist mantra, endlessly recycled by an empathetic lazy media, of course, but true. Rather, than fracking pollution, we have fracking water quality improvements.

Not only that, but here’s more:

Recycling of flowback and produced water from unconventional wells for new hydraulic fracturing operations reduces the amount of water to be withdrawn from freshwater sources in Pennsylvania and reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal or treatment. Act 47 enacted in 2015 encourages the use of treated mine water for hydraulic fracturing operations, which also reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal and treatment. Based upon the 2014 waste data submitted by the Oil and Gas Operators, nearly 90% of the flowback and produced water from unconventional wells has been recycled. This reduces the amount of water to be withdrawn from freshwater sources in Pennsylvania and reduces the amount of wastewater for disposal or treatment.

It’s getting better all the time, in other words, except for fantasy fish stories told by the likes of StateImpactPA.

fracking pollution

Last year, we reported on findings that Smallmouth Bass issues in the Susquehanna had nothing to dob with fracking. Fractivists were upset, of course, and didn’t want to believe it. They had eagerly bought into the hype churned out by the paid Heinz and Haas shills at StateImpactPA suggesting SmallMouth Bass problems were somehow the fault of fracking pollution. The truth is reiterated in this new DEP report:

PFBC data show that the smallmouth bass populations have been increasing for several years and have surpassed the pre-2005 catch rate medians at the middle Susquehanna River (from Sunbury to York Haven, Figure 6). The second highest catch rate on record (2016) demonstrates some measure of population recovery. Smallmouth bass population characteristics are also returning to levels consistent with the 1990s (Figure 7), suggesting that 2016 adult catch rates are not simply a one-year outlier. The balance of old versus young in the population is now consistent with what was seen in the 1990s. This is more cause for optimism that the population is rebounding. In addition, data collected by PFBC shows a clear trend of decreasing disease in the middle Susquehanna River with record low disease in 2016…

The increase in the smallmouth bass population and decrease in disease rates in recent years and especially in 2016 is a good indication this was a disease problem not related to water quality.

fracking pollution

The information on the Susquehanna River generally is also encouraging. Water quality data for the river at Wilkes-Barre, after passing through the heart of gas land in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania showed improving conditions with respect to everything that could be effectively analyzed, except for iron (which, presumably, has little to do with fracking). This included sulfates, total nitrogen, total nitrate and total organic carbon.

Finally, there’s also this:

In January 2013, DEP announced it would undertake a study to assess levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in the by-products associated with oil and natural gas development. DEP began studying radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids, and drill cuttings, as well as transportation, storage, and disposal of drilling wastes. This effort included a study of radon levels in natural gas to ensure that public health and the environment continue to be protected…

On January 15, 2015, DEP announced the results of its TENORM Study, which analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania. While the study outlines recommendations for further study, it concluded there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure due to oil and gas development.

So, the mystery remains. Where is the fracking pollution? Where is it hiding?


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9 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Mystery: Where’s the Fracking Pollution?

  1. Meanwhile back up here in NY, WHERE CROOKED Cuomo and lying Lupardo used the media like fake news WICZFox40 AND THE Binghamton press to support their moratorium with fake news on PA. Drilling, continually bombarding the people with front page stories of non existing pollution…ON A DAILY BASIS…haven’t reported on one case since Crooked Cuomo stoped gas drilling Dec.17th, 2014. Yes that is a qood question.? Where is the noise?

  2. Good post, Tom. I’m guessing this report will have zero influence upon those opposed to oil and gas operations and they will continue to claim all sorts of ill effects due to drilling, fracturing, gas production and distribution. They would do well to work to clean up the totally unnecessary pollution that results from their own activities.

  3. Don’t forget to give the chart that explains the contaminants associated with the various categories:
    here is the chart and you can see all the contaminants with oil and gas:

    It’s Table 15 on page 81 of the DEP Report you site:

    Table 15. (Continued)
    (1) Factors in Selecting a Contaminant Source (2) Contaminants
    A. Human health and/or environmental risk (toxicity) A. Volatile organic chemicals
    B. Size of the population at risk B. Petroleum compounds
    C. Location of the source relative to drinking water sources C. MTBE/TBA
    D. Number and/or size of contaminant sources D. Pesticides
    E. Hydrogeologic sensitivity E. Nitrates
    F. State findings, other findings F. Salinity/brine
    G. Documented from mandatory reporting G Metals
    H. Geographic distribution/occurrence H. Radionuclides
    I. Other criteria (please describe) I. Microbiological
    J. Sulfates, manganese and/or iron
    K. Total dissolved solids
    L. Other contaminant (please describe)
    (3) This could include naturally occurring contaminants such as radium, radon, sulfate, arsenic, iron, manganese,
    salt, etc.

    and then notice the contaminants listed for oil and gas:

    and then you can decode from the chart:

    Oil and gas are not pollution free
    and then notice other categories that can include oil and gas under “storage and treatment” which have high priority:
    Surface impoundments (all types)
    Waste piles or tailings

    and notice the code letters for the pollutants of these aspects of oil and gas :

    just thought I’d point out some of this which you left out…

    have a good day.

    We can’t say you’re not trying hard….

    • Nobody claimed that oil & gas operations were pollution free. They are heavily regulated & carefully administered and the FACTS readily demonstrate that in the DEP findings. Based on actual data, apparently this state could go a long way to improve it’s water quality by focusing more on mines, agriculture, landfills & urban runoff. Might want to throw in all that road salt Penn DOT spews out each winter as well…

    • Vera’s twisting this. Page 81 lists sources of contamination then lists contaminants. She is then pairing the ABC so on from one list to the other and claiming somehow it is all from drilling. For instance B on the list of contamination sources says size of population which she then pairs with B petroleum sources from the list of contaminates and so on.

  4. Tom – been following you, keep up the good work. One question, is there much occurrence or talk/fear of water-injection-caused seismic activity. Big issue in other parts of the country, but haven’t heard anything from PA

  5. Pingback: PA DEP Report shows no groundwater contamination from Fracking - A Different Kind of Lobbyist

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