In its analysis of data from the top oil producing states — Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah and Montana — the AP found that boom in natural gas drilling has been accompanied by a similar boom in the number and quantity of wastewater spills.
The number of wastewater spills jumped 88 percent between 2009 and 2014 — from 2,470 to 4,643 — and the amount spilled over the same timeframe has doubled. These numbers do not present the full picture, however, as some spills go unreported.
Wastewater contains an extremely high level of salt and can also contain heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. While waste is often recovered during cleanups, some of it can soak into the ground. When this happens, not only does it present a danger to plants, wildlife and freshwater supplies, it is also extremely difficult to clean up — more difficult even than oil.
The spills generally occur as oil and gas are funneled to metal tanks for separation from wastewater. They are most often the result of equipment malfunctions and human error.
Photo credit: oil and gas well via Shutterstock