May 12, 2016 by



View of the New River bridge in Fayette County, West Virginia. Wolf Creek, a tributary of the New River, has traces of fracking waste chemicals that are affecting the local ecosystem, according to a new study. Researchers discovered the chemicals near a fracking fluid waste site. The New River is a local water source.

A dumping site for fracking fluids long suspected to be leaching into Wolf Creek, a West Virginia waterway with ties to a county’s water supply, has indeed contaminated the creek with multiple chemicals, a new U.S. Geological Survey study has found.

The “study demonstrates definitively that the stream is being impacted by [unconventional oil and gas extraction] wastewaters,” Denise Akob, USGS scientist and lead author of the study, told ThinkProgress. Unconventional oil and gas extraction refers to the many processes that involve hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

For this study, scientists in 2014 collected water and sediment samples upstream and downstream from Danny E. Webb Construction Inc.’s disposal site, which is still operational. Samples were then analyzed for a series of chemical markers that are known to be associated with fracking. “We were able to see some elements that are known to be associated with [unconventional oil and gas] wastewaters, including barium, bromide, calcium, chloride, sodium, lithium, and strontium,” Akob said.

They also found that microbial diversity near sampling sites decreased. Though small, microbes play an important role in ecosystems’ food webs, and Akob said changes in microbial community composition is an indication of ecological impact. Yet she noted that of all the chemicals recorded, iron levels were the only ones to exceed aquatic health guidelines for the area. Wolf Creek has for years suffered from iron pollution from legacy mining.

Scientists don’t refer to the company by name in the study or interviews but note the source of the fracking chemicals is clear. However, questions remain. “The two big open questions right now are how are these wastewaters getting to the environment,” and “how far downstream do they go,” Akob said.

WV Site Map

CREDIT: U.S. Geological Survey

Published Monday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the study puts Danny E. Webb Construction Inc., which disposes of fracking waste in injection wells, under the spotlight once again for allegedly polluting Wolf Creek. Last month USGS and other institutions reported endocrine disrupting chemical activity, or EDCs, in Wolf Creek at levels that could alter development and reproduction in wildlife.

Wolf Creek is a tributary of the New River, with its confluence several miles upstream of the New River water treatment plant that serves approximately 24,000 people in Fayette County. In a statement, American Water, the local water utility, said “a recent round of multi-parameter raw water testing at our New River water treatment plant intake site in early April showed no observable peaks for volatile organic compounds, with all parameters being non-detect.”

Danny E. Webb Construction first came under scrutiny after at least two of its open pits holding fracking wastewater were found responsible for pungent smells that caused homes to be evacuated and forced some businesses, and a daycare center, to temporarily close twelve years ago.

After the pits were closed, the company, which has brine storage tanks, disposed of fracking waste fluids in an underground injection well. Between 2002 and 2014 the well in question received approximately 1.5 million barrels of wastewater from 25 production wells located in West Virginia, according to the study. A year ago the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection temporarily shut the company’s operations over a permit deemed unlawfully issued.

The company’s most recent permits were issued in August “because it met all legal requirements for those renewals,” the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement to ThinkProgress. The agency said it is aware of the latest study and “is looking into it.”

County officials didn’t respond to request for comment by press time, but they have said in past interviews with ThinkProgress that they are investigating the site. Moreover, the county is gearing up to defend in federal court an ordinance that banned fracking waste disposal from its borders. That ordinance fell under a court stay soon after the county approved it in January, as Danny E. Webb Construction Inc. and EQT Corp, an oil and gas company from Pennsylvania, filed lawsuits. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

Akob said the USGS will be releasing more studies on Wolf Creek in the next few months. These studies will look further into toxicity, microbiology, and organic chemistry, to name a few. However, it is unlikely they will look into how the pollution is getting into the creek. “That’s not something that we are able to pursue right now,” she said. “We no longer have site access.”

Danny E. Webb Construction Inc., which owns one of more than 36,000 fracking waste disposal sites across the country, couldn’t be reached for comment as its listed phone numbers are either disconnected or won’t take messages.

1 Comment

  1. The problem is that fracking is all over the kitchen to clean up after a banquet that has swept the larder

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