Skip to main content


Bombs, nuclear power plants and groundwater. What do they all have in common? Well, according to a new study published by the University at Buffalo (UB), the answer could soon be uranium.  

The study conducted by UB geologist Tracy Bank shows that hydraulic fracture drilling, or fracking, in the Marcellus shale deposit on the East Coast of the United States will result in the pollution of groundwater with uranium. Bank found that naturally occurring uranium trapped in Marcellus shale is released into groundwater following hydraulic fracturing, a practice of pumping high-pressured water and chemicals into rock formations to break up and release elements; in this case, natural gas.

Explains Bank:

"We found that the uranium and the hydrocarbons are in the same physical space...that they are not just physically—but also chemically—bound. That led me to believe that uranium in solution could be more of an issue because the process of drilling to extract the hydrocarbons could start mobilizing the metals as well, forcing them into the soluble phase and causing them to move around."

Bank’s hypothesis proved correct once samples of Marcellus shale were tested in the laboratory. The implications of the study are significant.Polluting groundwater with uranium, a toxic metal and radioactive element, could cause serious human health impacts if the uranium made its way into municipal drinking water systems or emitted toxic radon gas near communities.

It seems the oil and gas drilling industry would rather not acknowledge the water pollution associated with hydraulic fracturing. Which is why Earthjustice is fighting on Capitol Hill to close a loophole exempting the industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, challenging backroom deals between government regulators and the oil and gas industry, and fighting for the strongest possible regulations to protect clean air and water supplies.

Elementary school children are notorious for calling out new rules during games of handball on the playground. “No waterfalls!” “I call no handsies!”

The United Kingdom’s new Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme seems to be employing similar logic as it proclaims: “No paybacks!”

Following the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the idea of continuing deep water drilling sounded more than dubious. But, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar apparently found the idea perfectly sensible when he lifted the deep water drilling moratorium earlier this month, just weeks after the gushing BP well was finally shut down.

Here's the latest on the Obama administration's approach to oil drilling in the Arctic seas.

In July, a court agreed with Earthjustice lawyers that a hastily approved federal oil development plan for the Chukchi Sea is illegal. The court said the Interior Department simply ignored gaps in scientific data about the natural areas and wildlife about to be disturbed by drilling rigs without making any attempt to determine whether the missing information might be important or could be obtained from other sources.

Interior and its Minerals Management Service (renamed to escape the stigma of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) readily admit that they don't know much about almost every species of sea bird, migratory water fowl, seals and whales, not to mention polar bears, that would be affected by oil and gas development in the Chukchi.

Rather than take the hint, however, Interior now takes the position that oil drilling should go forward anyway because they would have approved it regardless of the scientific data. Interior Sec. Salazar's recent directive that the department's decisions be based on the best science available, rather than political pressure, seems not to have reached BOEMRE's Alaska office. We'll help get the word to them.

Since Earthjustice attorneys won a court decision in August ordering the federal government to once again extend Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in the northern Rockies, state governments have been busy trying to come up with ways to kill wolves anyway.

Today, six months from the day the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded 42 miles off the Louisiana shore, much is still unknown about the effects of the nation's biggest oil spill, which gushed for 95 continuous days and spilled nearly 200 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. (See a visual timeline of the oil spill.)


About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.