Another perfectly legal way to dispose of flowback at some times and places is to take it to a municipal water treatment plant. These plants use microorganisms and oxidation by air to remove sewage, food and other organic waste. The municipal water plant can do little or nothing for inorganic components fed to it. It is simply diluted and passed downstream, like in the old days, to the water intake of the next town. The bromine reacts with other things on the way to make carcinogenic compounds.
Another way to get rid of "frack water" is to reuse a portion of it for fracking. Sometimes some of it goes through a processing plant to remove impurities -- but what happens to the impurities?
Still another is to dump it in mine voids, where coal has been removed. Then it moves through the mine and through cracks and back out to the surface if the abandoned coal seam is above the valley floor. And then into streams.
Sometimes residual waste is pumped underground. This requires relatively porous rock, unavailable in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There are several wells in Ohio, and truck traffic is brisk to them. When you start pumping the volume equivalent of many houses down 10,000 feet every day, considerable pressure is needed. At least one Ohio well has disposed of so much brine that earthquakes have occurred.
Still another disposal method is to evaporate the water and volatile organic compounds from "frack ponds" on site. This is a source of considerable air pollution. Ponds are lined with impervious plastic to prevent leaks into the soil, more an ideal than an actuality. The final step may be removal to burial in a landfill or simply pushing it together on site and covering it with soil. Both of these slow down the movement of the salts, but eventually, over geological time, much of it washes into the creek.
There is no public accounting for flowback disposal, and little concern for how it is done. Does it "get lost" between the source at the well being fractured and some destination?
I get reports from the EPA almost daily, sometimes two or three a day, of cleanups of chemical contamination, brownfields. I am a member of an environmental group which is remediating acid mine drainage from mines dug over 100 years ago. I see the Marcellus industry repeating the same externalization of cost practiced by these earlier industries. Somebody else will pay for the industry's legitimate business cost of gas extraction.
The scale is vast. Figures above are for one well. Full exploitation of the Marcellus will involve hundreds of thousands of wells.
Dr. Bond, of Jane Lew, Lewis County, is retired as a Salem College organic chemistry professor.