According to the U.S. Forest Service, wastewater from a Marcellus Shale drilling operation in West Virginia killed ground vegetation almost immediately and more than half the trees in the area within two years.
While the salty fracking fluid was disposed of legally, experts claim this confirms that the wastewater should be treated as toxic waste.
Gas drilling has been a main industry in West Virginia for many years, but the Marcellus Shale boom has thrown companies and workers into overdrive. The Marcellus Shale formation is one of the largest reserves of natural gas in the U.S., spanning about 600 miles across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. It lies deep underground, and with the development of a process called hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – experts claim it could contain enough gas to supply the nation's demand for over a decade.
Fracking is a process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into a well to fracture the shale and release the natural gas trapped within it. The liquid pumped into the gas wells is called fracting fluid, and it can contain many different types of chemicals. Much of the fluid is made up of sand and water, but a portion contains potentially hazardous chemicals. As many as 50,000 gallons of chemicals are used at any drilling site.
Other potential effects from drilling include runoff and erosion, road damage, explosions, and water contamination. Researchers will continue to monitor deforestation and concerns for local vegetation while officials decide whether disposal methods should be changed.
More information on Marcellus Shale drilling is available online.