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Where Do Fracking Fluids Go? Scientists Create the First Detector

Where Do Fracking Fluids Go? Scientists Create the First Detector
Photograph by Doran J. Clark/Getty Images

Despite the concerns about wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, it can be difficult to keep track of where the drilling fluids end up. Now a team of researchers claims to have figured out how to trace leaks and spills of fracking fluids—and even detect their presence in treated water.

The method, detailed in a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, relies on identifying a specific combination of geochemical characteristics unique to fracking wastewater. “There’s a particular chemical signature we look for,” explains Nathaniel Warner, postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College and lead author of the study. That signature is independent of ingredients that make up fracking fluids, which vary and are often proprietary. Instead, it relies on elements that merge with the fracking fluids underground.