Hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") waste contains high levels of naturally occurring radioactive material brought to the surface by drilling as well as a toxic mixture of chemicals used in the fracking process. The extraction process produces two types of wastewater: Flowback water is the chemically treated fracking fluid that returns to the surface shortly after a fracking operation. Produced water, also known as "formation water" or "fracking brine" is the fluid that comes out of the shale formation along with the oil or gas. The process also produces tons of semi-solid waste in the form of drilling muds, sludge and cuttings.
Congress has exempted oil and gas waste from the definition of hazardous waste, even though it routinely exceeds criteria for such classification. This eliminates tracking requirements for its handling, storage, treatment and disposal. Truck accidents, spills, and leaks from unmarked vehicles can expose drivers, police, EMTs and the public to hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials.
Spreading of fracking wastewater for dust control and de-icing on roads increases the risk of exposure to drivers and pedestrians as well as contamination of nearby fields and surface waters. Road spreading can also contaminate groundwater, increasing the risk of inhalation and ingestion of both highly radioactive materials, and carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals by humans and livestock.
Public and private wastewater treatment facilities are not capable of processing the hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials produced by drilling activities.
Landfill disposal of radioactive sludge from oil and gas drilling operations could contaminate them for thousands of years. Storage in closed containment tanks could eventually result in permanent groundwater and surface water contamination. The presence of highly radioactive materials and other contaminants in local food products could cause irreparable damage and serious impacts to the economy.