Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Research suggests fracking could lead to uranium groundwater contamination

Researchers at State University of New York at Buffalo say hydraulic fracturing may release more than natural gas from shale formations as the process can mobilize uranium as well. Scientists say the uranium could pollute groundwater near "fracking" operations, the Environmental News Service reports. "Marcellus shale naturally traps metals such as uranium and at levels higher than usually found naturally, but lower than man made contamination levels," lead researcher Tracy Bank, PhD, assistant professor of geology in UB's College of Arts and Sciences, said.

"My question was, if they start drilling and pumping millions of gallons of water into these underground rocks, will that force the uranium into the soluble phase and mobilize it?" Bank said. "Will uranium then show up in groundwater?" Researchers scanned the surfaces of Marcellus Shale samples from Western New York and Pennsylvania and found uranium bonded to hydrocarbons. "That led me to believe that uranium in solution could be more of an issue because the process of drilling to extract the hydrocarbons could start mobilizing the metals as well," Bank said, "forcing them into the soluble phase and causing them to move around."

Bank warned that water from fracking could contain uranium contaminants when it is brought to the surface, potentially polluting streams and generating hazardous waste. "Even though at these levels, uranium is not a radioactive risk, it is still a toxic, deadly metal," Bank said. "We need a fundamental understanding of how uranium exists in shale. The more we understand about how it exists, the more we can better predict how it will react to fracking." (Read more)

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