When fracking causes controversy, it’s often because of wells — either the ones used to inject chemicals and water into the ground to break up gas-rich shale rock or the ones used to dispose of all the waste and water left over from the injection process.
Often overlooked is a another way to dispose of that waste: massive surface ponds in which fracking water is stored until it can be recycled or buried or is left to slowly evaporate. Those ponds, which can grow to several acres in size, dot the landscapes of virtually every state that produces natural gas.
Now environmentalists say a recent controversy over the ponds in Utah highlights their increasing impact across the U.S.
The scandal at Danish Flats Environmental Services, in Clark County, next to Colorado, began as soon as the ponds were developed in 2007. The facility, which consists of 14 ponds filled mainly with oil and gas wastewater from Colorado, had been allowing the water to evaporate without an air quality permit from the state. Until early August the state considered the facility — and every other wastewater pond in Utah — below the de minimis pollution standard, meaning it wasn’t emitting enough to be regularly inspected by air quality regulators or to need a permit.