Preserving the Environment

The New Scientific Discovery That Catches Polluters Red-Handed

October 24, 2014
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The New Scientific Discovery That Catches Polluters Red-Handed
Scientists have devised a method to test if fracking pollutes ground water. Alex Wong/Getty Images
It's no longer possible to hide the evidence.

For the first time, we can play gotcha! with the fracking industry.

Researchers have developed a new tool that can identify the chemical “fingerprints” left behind hydraulic fracturing (fracking) waste, Think Progress reports. Fracking involves shooting an absurd amount of water, chemicals and sand to extract natural gas and oil from shale formations.

We’ve mentioned that the booming but controversial drilling process has been linked to a variety of health and environmental problems — from creating millions of barrels of toxic waste a day to causing earthquakes, as well as polluting the air, our water supply and our bodies.

MORE: Meet the 70-Year-Old Lone Star Who Polices Fracking Waste

In the just-released study (published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology) scientists have traced two elements — boron and lithium — that are found in shale formations and that also show up in contaminated environments due to fracking fluids.

This development is important because fracking companies can no longer sweep spills under the rug or point fingers at other causes of pollution, meaning that they can now be held accountable for the clean-up or be forced to pay fines.

“So if there is contamination, we can tell the source,” researcher and Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh tells the McClatchy News Service. “Once you see this kind of water in the environment, you will be able to say, ‘Yes, this is fracking.’”

Nathaniel Warner of Dartmouth College, lead author of the study, says “This new technology can be combined with other methods to identify specific instances of accidental releases to surface waters in areas of unconventional drilling. It could benefit industry as well as federal and state agencies charged with monitoring water quality and protecting the environment.”

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