Use of fracking technology planned for groundwater cleanup

Farm Forum

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – A company plans to use fracking technology on a small scale to help clean up groundwater pollution at its soybean extraction plant in Lincoln following the state’s preliminary approval for the work.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. plans to inject emulsified iron and vegetable solutions under high pressure into the ground to help remove lingering contaminants, including carbon tetrachloride, that have been there for decades, the Lincoln Journal Star ( ) reported.

The hazardous chemicals were once commonly used as a grain fumigant to kill insects during the 1950s and 1960s. Company officials believe the contamination was there before it bought the grain elevator complex in 1966.

Supervisor Tom Buell, of the state agency’s voluntary cleanup program and Superfund unit, said there’s no public health risk associated with the groundwater contamination.

“The pathways are controlled,” he said. “Currently, nobody’s drinking the water, and we’re very confident nobody is exposed to contaminated soil or vapors.”

The state’s environmental quality department gave its initial OK in June and is accepting public comments on the company’s remedial action plan until July 31. Buell said if the agency grants a permit, the injections could begin this fall.

Separate investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the company in 2007-08 found that levels of carbon tetrachloride in groundwater samples had exceeded 3,400 parts per billion. The federal health standard for that chemical compound is 5 parts per billion. Health officials say exposure to high levels of the chemical can damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

The city of Lincoln annexed the area in 2008, and one house and two businesses that were connected to the city’s water system, according to John Chess, a water quality supervisor with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

The company joined a voluntary cleanup program in 2008 and studied the extent of the contamination at the 41-acre plant site. It installed a soil vapor extraction system in 2011 that acts like a giant vacuum to reduce or eliminate the groundwater contamination.

Chess said the system has some impact, but that we “still need to fix the problem.” He said that the chemical’s levels are still around 3,000 parts per billion.