Today, industry is being forced to meet qualify standards for all water effluents discharged or proposed to be discharged to public waters. This national policy demands the removal of substances from water or the management of processing so that restricted materials do not reach the water environment. Generally these restricted materials have no value in their present form or place and are, therefore, wastes.
The dilemma is this: having removed or isolated these materials at great cost, what do you do with them? Concentration of the materials may lessen cost of transportation and storage, but it does not solve the ultimate disposal problem.
Millions of tons of industrial residues are being stored in open pits above ground. Carbonates, hydrates, silicates, sulfates, oils, tars, acids, and brines can be found stored in diked areas near industrial centers. Some of these stored materials contain small quantities of toxic substances. All of these materials are subject to leaching and thus can reenter the environment. Maintenance of these open pits to avoid pollution is a never-ending concern.
The alternatives to pit storage have been ocean disposal, deep-well disposal, disposal by dilution during flood periods, and, in the case of organic materials, incineration. One by one these alternatives are being legislated or regulated out of existence. The Utopian philosophy of complete recycling is gaining popularity.
The atomic-energy industry has for years isolated dangerous materials, immobilized them, and buried them on reservations far removed from processing sites. Treatment of the wafer may cost as much as $1/gal. Transportation and burial of residues are a large added cost.
Processing industries generate some very complicated waste waters. The most difficult to dispose of are those which contain both organic and inorganic substances in true solution.
The dilemma is cause for national concern, requiring study and resolution. The road to complete recycling—if there is such a thing—is long and costly. Politicians must be forced to look at both sides of the environmental-protection coin.
Figures & Tables
Underground Waste Management and Environmental Implications
This publication consists of papers based on oral presentations at a symposium of the same name co-sponsored by the United States Geological Survey and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. A wide range of technical issues are covered, as well as regulatory and liability concerns. Documentation of two areas in Colorado where earthquakes had resulted from subsurface fluid injection set the stage for modern debates regarding possible similar results elsewhere. A wide range of fluid compositions are subject to subsurface waste disposal. The largest volumes are brines separated during the production of oil and gas wells, but acid-water and industrial wastes of all types can be disposed in significant quantities in local areas. Large hydraulic fracture treatments never recover all of the injected fluids, and the chemical additives in the fluid that remains underground can be a concern. The subsurface injection of radioactive waste is a topic for three of the papers. The possible need for sequestration of carbon dioxide was not a significant concern at the time and was not covered, but many of the papers provide insight into the issues related to modern proposals. When fluids are injected under pressure into subsurface aquifers, they interact in numerous ways. The fluids can potentially migrate for long distances and potentially interfere with other uses for the native aquifer fluids. If the aquifer cannot transport all of the fluids away, the buildup in pressure can cause fracturing of the rock. Differences in composition between the injected and native fluids can cause chemical reactions to occur; in some cases these can be desirable in that they can immobilize certain solutes in mineral form. The long-term environmental consequences are a common theme in many of the papers because of the recognition that the disposed fluids would become a permanent fixture in subsurface aquifers and could have long-term consequences for their future utilization.