Brine Wastewater Leak Investigated

DALLAS – Officials want to know how 2,264 barrels of brine wastewater leaked from a storage pit into a local tributary of Big Wheeling Creek in Marshall County on Friday.

Noble Energy is an active Marcellus Shale company in Marshall County that partners with Consol Energy to drill and frack wells. On Friday, Noble discovered that a pond – containing both fresh water and brine wastewater, which is produced during the fracking process – was overflowing because of an open valve. The pond is located on surface property owned by Consol.

“We need to show these people we are not going to take this. They need to be more responsible than to leave a valve open at night,” said Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout.

Initial reports to the National Response Center estimated the spill at 8,000 barrels. However, Stacey Brodak, community and media relations manager for Noble, said this was an “initial very rough estimate.”

“It was not accurate,” she insisted of the number given to the response center. “It is very common to see adjustments in the number that is called in. Our engineers have calculations to determine the volume of overflow.”

After gas drillers pump millions of gallons of fracking fluid – consisting mostly of water and sand, but also including different chemical combinations that vary per the choice of the driller – into a production well, much of this substance flushes back up through the well. The fracking fluid combines with minerals and mud from the earth to create the brine wastewater.

“No activity was occurring at this location at the time of the incident,” said Brodak. “Employees resolved the issue by closing the valve and stopping the flow. A root cause analysis is being conducted to determine why the valve was open, and Noble Energy will adopt protocols to prevent such occurrence in the future.”

Brodak said that centralized pits are part of Noble’s water recycling program, emphasizing that these ponds are permitted and regulated through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

“We are looking over the sample results and determining what remediation or follow-up monitoring might be necessary. There still is no evidence of a fish kill,” DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said Wednesday regarding the spill.

As part of the ongoing investigation, Noble Energy is evaluating the extent of the overflow and any potential impacts. Water and soil samples are also being collected, and testing is under way.

Brodak said Noble believes secondary containment areas, called sediment traps, minimized any environmental impact of the overflow. Sediment traps are designed for this purpose and appear to have functioned properly.

“Although we continue to assess water and soil quality, we do not believe that any creeks, streams or surrounding landowners have been significantly impacted,” she added, noting her company will cooperate with the West Virginia DEP.

Despite Brodak’s insistence that the spill did not create a major problem, some materials in brine water can be radioactive, such as radium and uranium.

A 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey examined 52 samples of Marcellus Shale wastewater collected from wells in New York and Pennsylvania. Some of the samples showed readings for radium at least 242 times higher than the amount allowed for drinking water – and at least 20 times higher than the industrial standard.

Radium that is swallowed or inhaled can accumulate in a person’s bones. Long-term exposure increases the risk of developing several diseases, such as lymphoma, bone cancer and diseases that affect the formation of blood, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to uranium can result in kidney damage and increase one’s risk of developing cancer.