A controlled test of the chemical-laced fluids used in natural gas drilling killed most of the vegetation and trees in the test area, according to a report by Bloomberg Businessweek.
Lead researcher Mary Beth Adams, a soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, says that the damage to the trees and vegetation, detailed in a case study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, shows the need for more research into gas industry practices, Bloomberg Businesweek reported. "There is virtually no information in the scientific literature about the effects of gas well development on forests in the eastern U.S.," Adams said.
The test results are troubling, because gas companies are using the fluids extensively to extract natural gas from underground shale formations in a process known as hydrofracturing or "fracking." Fracking is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act, and drillers often dispose of fracking fluids in public sewage systems that are not designed to treat them.
The test was conducted by Berry Energy in cooperation with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The company sprayed 75,000 gallons of fracking fluid on a test site of less than one-half acre in the Monongahela National Forest. "Within a few days, all ground vegetation was dead," Bloomberg Businessweek reported. "Within 10 days, the leaves of the hardwoods began to turn brown and drop. Within two years, more than half of the 150 trees were dead, and sodium and chloride concentrations in the soil were 50 times higher than normal."
"This study suggests that these fluids should be treated as toxic waste," argues Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "The explosion of shale gas drilling in the East has the potential to turn large stretches of public lands into lifeless moonscapes."
Click here to read the Bloomberg Businessweek story.