Hydrofracking, Water, Watersheds, and the Ocean

02/27/2011 08:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Regulation Lax as Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers" by Ian Urbina in the February 26, 2011 New York Times is a must read for anyone interested in yet another direct and indirect threat to the ocean. The concentrated presence of highly corrosive salts, benzene, radium, other radioactive and toxic chemical elements in the millions of gallons of wastewater used in hydrofracking, a relatively recent process of recovering natural gas from deep underground, is yet another unexpected consequence of the desperate pursuit of fossil fuels on our public health -- on the safety of drinking water, watersheds, the food chain, and, ultimately, marine resources and the ocean.

Urbina's investigation reveals failure by the US Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators to intervene through published study, testing, standards, and enforcement to protect the public from the incapacity of sewage treatment plants (where hundreds of millions of gallons of this wastewater is disposed) to deal with the massive amount of toxic salts and levels of radioactivity hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by federal standards for drinking water. While that water is not directly consumed by humans, the unmitigated volume of known carcinogenics is nonetheless deposited into streams and rivers, distributed through interconnected watersheds to the ocean, and introduced into the food chain as yet another "invisible" threat to human health. As with the impact of excess CO2 in the atmosphere (acidification) or excess nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers (eutrophication) or mercury in swordfish (persistent organic pollutants), this situation can be easily justified, ignored, or denied by industry and politicians, but it remains yet another example of how alternatives are not always solutions and how the imperative for a new energy policy and significant development and investment in renewable, safer technologies is so needed, now.

The sea connects all things.