DEP begins fracking radiation tests - Shale Reporter : Environment

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DEP begins fracking radiation tests

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 7:30 am

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection this month will begin testing for radioactivity in waste products from natural gas well drilling.

In addition to analyzing wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, the study also will analyze radioactivity in drill cuttings, drilling mud, drilling equipment, treatment solids and sediments at well pads, wastewater treatment and disposal facilities and landfill leachate, among others.

The study also will test radiation levels for the equipment involved in the transportation, storage and disposal of drilling wastes.

“We are sampling the wastewater and wastes, the treatment equipment used to treat it, the trucks used to transport it, the tanks and pits used to store it and the landfills or treatment plants used to dispose of it,” said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday. “Samples will be analyzed for the parameters discussed in the Scope of Work and Field Sampling Plan.”

According to DEP data regarding the study, among the substances to be tested for are Radium-226, Radium-228, Uranium-238, Uranium-235, Uranium-234, Thorium-232, Radon-220 and Radon-222.

Released on Wednesday, the sampling plan details the type of samples the agency will collect, their locations and the method for analyzing them, DEP officials said. The quality assurance plan includes specifics on how the DEP will collect, transport and analyze the samples.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s announcement Jan. 24 of the DEP’s plan to study radiation in natural gas drilling wastewater came on the heels of extensive questioning by Shalereporter.com regarding radioactivity in fracking wastewater, regulation of the wastewater’s transport and the potential health effects of exposure to fracking wastewater, all issues covered in the series “Under the Radar,” which was published beginning Jan. 25.

Before it announced the study, the DEP had consistently denied radiation in fracking waste was even an issue. The agency told Shalereporter.com in past interviews that it did not measure radium concentrations or activities in brine, did not believe the potentially radioactive water was making its way into waterways, and that it was the sole entity in charge of the “handling, transport, disposal, storage and recycling of brine,” despite the fact that it did not measure the brine for elevated levels of radiation.

The regulatory agency also previously said it was “not aware of any evidence to suggest flowback contains dangerous amounts of radiation,” despite several reports to the contrary by environmental groups and one by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Despite plans to study the issue, the DEP maintains that radiation in relation to natural gas drilling does not pose a health risk.

“Based on current data, regulations and industry practices, there is no indication that the public or workers in the oil and gas industry face health risks from exposure to radiation from these materials,” the DEP release said. “The study is aimed at ensuring that public health and the environment continue to be protected.”

The DEP also said in the release that it “routinely reviews radioactivity data in wastes that the drilling industry and other industries generate, and the information obtained to date indicates very low levels of natural radioactivity.”

DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who will step down effective April 15, promoted the agency’s “transparency” in conducting the study.

“Pennsylvania is setting the bar for responsible shale gas development, and the study of radiation issues in oil and gas development is yet another example of that,” Krancer said. “Not only do we in Pennsylvania operate with scientific rigor, we do so with unmatched transparency. These plans show exactly how we are conducting this study.”

Perma-Fix Environmental Services of Pittsburgh will partner with DEP on the study. According to the release, Perma-Fix has worked with the agency for more than a decade on radioactivity monitoring and assessments.

Radiation levels in fracking wastewater were first addressed in a December 2011 U.S. Geological Survey report that found that millions of barrels of wastewater from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and conventional wells in New York were 3,609 times more radioactive than the federal limit for drinking water and 300 times more radioactive than a Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for nuclear plant discharges.

The report’s author, USGS research geologist Mark Engle, said fracking flowback from the Marcellus shale contains higher radiation levels than similar shale formations.

“There (isn’t) a lot of data but in general, the Marcellus appears to be anomalously high,” Engle said in a previous interview.

The USGS is still studying the issue, sampling wastewater from all types of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota and Montana.

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