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EPA Documents Illinois Contamination History From Fracking Wastewater

With respect to the industry’s claim that there have been no documented or confirmed cases of water or land contamination, SAFE responds that there have been many cases of such contamination in several Illinois counties.

We sent this report, with a cover letter, to the officials named at the bottom of the page. See “We Have What the Industry Says Does Not Exist

As early as 1978, with the older, vertical hydraulic fracturing, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found that the industry’s operations in Illinois had contaminated ground water, sterilized thousands of acres of farmland, brought illness and death to farm animals, left farmers without potable water, and induced a decline in property values in Rochester, Illinois…the report details the industry’s behavior with regard to oil and gas industry waste water disposal since 1904.

Special Thanks to Environmental Working Group for this report.

The following are excerpts from the study.

Property  values can drop  as a result of threatened ground water contamination. This occurred in 1977 at a housing development located near a brine pit in Rochester, Illinois, after elevated  chloride concentrations were found in the surrounding ground water  (Case III, Appendix B).  these are just a few examples of environmental degradation through  brine pollution that have occurred in  Illinois over recent years. Pg 22

Brine-polluted ground water may eventually infiltrate public or private water supplies, or percolate to the surface. Water supplies for farms and dairy operations an become saline, leaving cattle and  a family without potable water. This was the case for a Clinton County dairy farmer and his family in 1976, when highly mineralized waters infiltrated his local ground water supply (Case I- Appendix B). Pg. 22

However, even though these cases have occurred in close proximity to active oil field brine disposal operations, lack of acceptable legal evidence has left land owners without means to  secure compensation for damages incurred. One of the important characteristics of brine pollution often overlooked until the damage has been done, is that the pollution cannot be readily reversed by merely eliminating the existing source. In ground water, brine pollution may persist for decades and travel several miles from its point of origin before it is appreciably diluted.Pg. 28

Evaporation  pits were introduced in Illinois from the southwestern  oil producing states, and rely solely or in part on evaporation for the removal of water vapor. These pits are used as  ultimate disposal facilities or  storage facilities pending underground injection. However, the  relatively humid climate of Illinois allows little or no  net evaporation throughout the year. Pg. 34

During the initial field investigations, it was noted that the fluid levels in at least 80 percent of  the estimated 200 pits inspected were  being maintained above surrounding ground level. Pits displaying breached walls were also noted. In a few instances, even though the pit was perilously close to overflowing or was in fact flowing over its banks, brine input continued at a substantial  rate, i.e., 5-15 gallons per minute (Plate 6).Pg. 43

Other brine related problems noted in  the field included remnant scars from pits which had drained into  nearby streams or across open land  rendering it void of vegetation  (Plates 7  and 8). A few of the pits exhibit darkened halos around their peripheries indicating seepage from within. These  improperly constructed or  maintained pits allow  brines to seep into underlyingsoils   and eventually migrate  into ground water reservoirs.  Once absorbed into the ground  water system, the brines (particularly  chlorides) can travel several miles due to their resistance  against  absorption into the aquifer material. Pg. 48

Productive farm land can be left completely unvegetated as can be seen at a site in south central  Bond County. In this case a field adjacent to a brine pit was left void of vegetation after saline  ground water percolated to the surface (Case II, Appendix B) Pg. 22

Many of the disposal wells presently in use may be inadequately designed or constructed to facilitate the safe injection of saline waters. In the past, abandoned production wells, subject to pressure check, could be converted to SWD or waterflood wells without installing tubing and packers. Often the casing in an old well has deteriorated from years of exposure to corrosive formation fluids. Although such a casing may withstand an initial pressure check, its subsequent life expectancy could be substantially shortened. When failure does occur, chloride solutions can be expelled at injection pressure into the adjacent strata, as illustrated in Figure 13.  Pg. 50

The records of the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals indicate that there are thousands of plugged wells within the state. Many  of these wells were plugged prior to the 1940’s before plugging records and specifications were developed, and may not have retained the integrity necessary to restrict vertical migration of  highly saline waters. Ultimately, the migration of saline waters through these casings could lead  to the degradation of otherwise potable ground water    P. 52

The first thing we learn about the report is that it was instigated by land owner complaints of contaminated water and damaged land.

The oil and gas industry is spending millions in an advertising campaign to mislead the public about the dangers of “fracking”.  One of the claims the industry is making is that fracking technology has been used since the 1940s and that there are no “documented” cases of the contamination of groundwater, or no “confirmed” cases of contamination.  This claim is blatently false.

We note first that the industry uses the term “fracking,” but the older method of fracking to which the industry is referring is vertical hydraulic fracturing only: drilling straight down and fracturing shale formations around the well bore.  The older method differs dramatically from the newer fracking technology known as high-volume horizontal fracking.  In the newer method, the drilling first goes down vertically and then turns sideways and goes horizontal.  Horizontal fracking takes exponentially more fresh water and sand, and chemicals to keep the bacteria from building up during the high temperatures of drilling.  Staggering quantities of fresh water are mixed with toxic chemicals, with the result that the water is turned into highly toxic brine that cannot be returned to the hydrological cycle.  Currently, there is no safe disposal method for this toxic brine, so the industry has been burying it in deep injection wells underground, which poses further risks for ground water contamination.

The Brine Report Has Been Sent To:

  1. Senator Forby

  2. Representative Brandon Phelps

  3. Governor Quinn

  4. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon

  5. Marc Ayers, Lt. Governor’s Office

  6. Speaker of the House Michael Madigan

  7. Mary Morrisey, Political Director, Office of the Attorney General

  8. Lisa Bonnett, Director Environmental Protection Agency

  9. Marcia Willhite, Director Water Bureau, IL Environmental Protection Agency

  10. Maggie Carson, Communication Manager, IL Environmental Protection Agency

  11. Raghav Murali, Legislative Liaison, IL Environmental Protection Agency

  12. LeMar Hasbrouck, Director, Illinois Department of Public Health

  13. Representative David Reis

  14. Representative Brandon Phelps

  15. Representative Mike Bost

  16. Representative John Cavaletto

  17. Representative Jerry Costello II

  18. Representative Gary Forby

  19. Representative John Bradley

  20. President of the Senate John J. Cullerton

  21. Senator David Luechtefeld

Let us know who you have sent it to, and we will post it here.


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