Fracking Fluid Has Increased Pollution Potential

The properties that make fracking fluid effective at extracting natural gas from shale also make associated pollutants, such as heavy metals, leach out...

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Partially wet sand grains, gray, with colloids, red dots. / Cornell University
Partially wet sand grains, gray, with colloids, red dots. / Cornell University

By Andrew Casler, via the Ithaca Journal, 06/25/14

ITHACA — Wastewater from hydraulic fracturing could release tiny particles that bind to heavy metals and pollutants, exacerbating environmental risks during accidental spills, according to Cornell University researchers.

The properties that make fracking fluid effective at extracting natural gas from shale also make associated pollutants, such as heavy metals, leach out, according to the Cornell researchers.

The study’s findings can be used by people looking to prevent or cleanup fracking fluid spills, co-author on the paper, Cornell postdoctoral associate Cathelijne Stoof, said.

The tiny particles they studied are colloids — larger than the size of a molecule but smaller than what can be seen with the naked eye — which cling to sand and soil due to their electric charge.

“If there’s a spill, mobilization of these tiny particles by the flowback fluid (fracking wastewater) could cause additional contamination of the groundwater,” Stoof said.

Stoof said the Cornell research is a first step in studying the interaction between fracking wasterwater and colloids.

“What we would like to do as the next step is continue with this and look at what happens in more complex systems.”

The research was supported by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station’s USDA Hatch funds, as well as the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.