You are here

Please Fulfill Your 2012 State of the Union Promise by Banning Five Types of Outmoded Natural Gas and Oil Fracking Wastewater Disposal

December 19, 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:

You probably will not remember me, but this is Walter Hang. I was your colleague at New York Public Interest Research Group, Inc. circa 1985 when I was the Director of the Toxics Project and you were the Project Coordinator at City College of New York. It is an honor to congratulate you on all your success and to thank you for your historic public service.

I write today to ask you very respectfully to resolve an extremely important public health and environmental concern that is completely within your authority to rectify before you leave office. For reasons I will describe in detail, I request that you immediately ban five outmoded and toxic-polluting oil and natural gas wastewater disposal methods associated with both shale fracking and conventional natural gas and oil extraction.

Since 2009, I have posted for public review extensive local, state and federal government data which document natural gas and oil extraction wastewater disposal practices that should have been banned decades ago. I also documented extensive public health and environmental contamination hazards associated with explosions, fires, massive contamination spills and polluted water supply wells caused by natural gas and oil extraction activities, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania.

See: Toxics Targeting's Data Compilation of Natural Gas and Oil Extraction/Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Pollution Hazards

Please Fulfill Your 2012 State of the Union Public Health Protection Promise

In your 2012 State of the Union Address, you promised:

"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy (emphasis added). Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk (emphasis added).

See: President Obama Letter regarding NEPA implications of horizontal hydrofracturing of shale to extract natural gas and Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address | whitehouse ...

Mr. President, with all due respect, I call upon you to fulfill your promise to safeguard the "health and safety" of all Americans from shale fracking pollution hazards before you leave office.

Shale Fracking in America

Shale fracking is the most controversial, environmentally devastating and least regulated oil and gas extraction technique in America. Due to fracking, America became the biggest producer of oil and natural gas in the world as scientific studies further documented how fossil fuels contribute to global climate change.

Fracking pumps millions of gallons of highly pressurized water into wells drilled horizontally through shale formations. This process cracks the rock and releases oil and natural gas contained in tiny pores. Fracking a single shale well generates huge quantities of highly toxic "flowback" and "produced" wastewater.

Fracking and conventional oil and gas extraction wastewaters are contaminated with toxic metals, radioactive elements, dissolved solids and organic chemicals, including benzene, naphthalene, xylene, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, barium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, sodium, radium-226 and radium-228.

See: Unconventional Oil And Gas Extraction Wastewater Volumes And Characteristics

Improper fracking wastewater disposal has caused unprecedented contamination problems across the country. Historic toxic-polluting oil and gas extraction wastewater disposal practices have the potential to cause irreparable harm to public health and the environment in more than half the states in the nation.

See fracking oil and gas extraction maps for PA, OH, CO, MI, OK and CA.

Unprecedented Fracking Wastewater Pollution Hazards

During the early days of the U.S. shale fracking boom in 2008, fracking wastewater was discharged into Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) in western Pennsylvania which were neither designed, constructed nor maintained to break down or remove toxic pollutants and dissolved solids in the wastewater.

The pollutants "passed through" into the Monongahela River. As a result, 850,000 residents near Pittsburgh could not drink water drawn from that waterbody during the biggest drinking water pollution crisis in U.S. history.

See: 2008 Shale Fracking Monongahela River Drinking Water Crisis

New EPA Ban on Fracking Wastewater Dumping in POTWs

Disclosure of the Monongahela incident prompted the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to initiate a regulatory proceeding which imposed a nationwide ban on fracking wastewater dumping into POTWs on 6/28/16.

See: Final rule: Federal Register Notice (PDF)

EPA Authority to Regulate Fracking and Conventional Petroleum Extraction Wastewater Disposal

Mr. President, citizens from coast-to-coast are threatened by a wide variety of well-documented fracking wastewater disposal hazards. It is imperative that you safeguard these Americans before leaving office.

EPA has broad authority to regulate improper conventional and fracking wastewater disposal pursuant to the U. S. Safe Drinking Water Act and the U. S. Clean Water Act, but has failed to do so on a comprehensive basis.

EPA's POTW fracking wastewater ban sets a critical precedent for safeguarding public health and the environment from toxic-polluting oil and gas extraction wastewater disposal practices that should have been banned decades ago.

With that goal in mind, I request that you take immediate urgent action to ban on all toxic-polluting oil and natural gas fracking and extraction wastewater disposal practices including, but not limited to:

1. Deep-well injection which can pollute underground drinking water sources and cause earthquakes as reported in Ohio, Oklahoma and other states;

2. Agricultural crop irrigation and livestock watering west of the 98th Meridian West with wastewater containing up to 35 parts per million of potentially toxic oil/grease pollutants;

3. Landspreading for de-icing, dust control and roadbed stabilization which can contaminate soils and surface waters;

4. "Recycling" of contaminated wastewater for fracking purposes that can pollute underground drinking water sources; and

5. Recharge and evaporation pits, ponds and lagoons which can pollute groundwater.


Mr. President, with all respect, your pro-fracking policies have perpetuated America's addiction to natural gas and oil for decades to come. You will surely be judged on the wisdom of that fateful decision.

It would be irresponsible of you, however, to end your term of office without resolving the inadequate regulation of natural gas and oil extraction wastewater disposal that is causing irreparable contamination threats to public health all over the nation. I request that you take swift action in the coming days to keep your 2012 State of the Union pledge.

Please forgive me for being blunt, but I believe that if you do not fulfill my request, you would have failed to keep your word and would be responsible for future fracking wastewater hazards that could have been prevented by your decisive action in the next four weeks.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may answer your questions or clarify my request. The weight of this historic decision rests entirely on your shoulders.

Thank you for your consideration and for your commendable public service.

Very truly yours,

Walter L. T. Hang

cc: Honorable Judith Enck
Governor Andrew Cuomo