Environmental groups are stepping up their demands on the federal government to prohibit fracking wastewater from being used to irrigate farms, with specific concerns raised about its use in organic farming.
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One national petition drive, launched by the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin, calls on the USDA to “ban the use of wastewater for irrigation purposes from hydraulic fracturing processes at gas and oil wells, sewage plants, or any other industrial sources.”
The petition contends that sewage sludge is already banned from landspreading in organic standards because it can contain heavy metals, industrial chemical residues, and pharmaceuticals. The petition says that the wastewater from these sewage treatment plants is also a risk.
The EPA released in July its assessment of the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The review states that hydraulic fracking “has not led to widespread, systemic impacts,” but that there are “potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water.”
According to the review, there are specific instances where well integrity and wastewater management related to hydraulic fracturing activities have impacted drinking water resources, but those impacts have been small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The vulnerabilities identified include inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources, water withdrawals in areas with low water availability, and spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.
Thomas A. Burke, EPA deputy assistant administrator, says that the assessment is the most “complete compilation of scientific data to date.” The EPA has indicated that it needs to improve oversight of permit issuance for hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuels and address any related compliance issues and to develop a plan for responding to the public’s concerns about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. In May 2014, the EPA started a process to evaluate whether federal requirements should be established for chemical disclosure. The agency says that it “has not yet developed a plan of action for further steps in this proposed rulemaking activity.”
A California-based group called Courage Campaign has pledged to stop buying produce from specific companies after an article published in the July issue of Mother Jones reported that wastewater generated as a byproduct from oil extraction is being sold to 90 southern California landowners, including one that is a certified organic operation.
A recent study by Water Defense, an environmental group, found that treated wastewater being sold to some farmers in Kern County, Calif., contains acetone, methylene chloride, and oil.