“Fracking wastewater can be highly radioactive”

Photo by Mark William Branciaroli for The Times"Tanker trucks like these in Buckhannon, W.Va., haul potentially radioactive brine from frack sites."
Photo by Mark William Branciaroli for The Times
“Tanker trucks like these in Buckhannon, W.Va., haul potentially radioactive brine from frack sites.”

Times online news out of Western Pennsylvania published this article by staff writer Rachel Morgan.  She writes:

“..Fracking wastewater has revealed one of its secrets: It can be highly radioactive.  And yet no agency really regulates its handling, transport or disposal. First of a four-part series on radiation in fracking wastewater.”

Morgan introduces the reader to Randy Moyer, who worked hauling wastewater to and from drilling sites.  She reports that he’s not been able to work in 14 months and has been to over 40 doctors, with stacks of unpaid bills but no diagnoses.  She writes:

“Moyer said he began transporting brine, the wastewater from gas wells that have been hydraulically fractured, for a small hauling company in August 2011. He trucked brine from wells to treatment plants and back to wells, and sometimes cleaned out the storage tanks used to hold wastewater on drilling sites. By November 2011, the 49-year-old trucker was too ill to work. He suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, difficulty breathing, swollen lips and appendages, and a fiery red rash that covered about 50 percent of his body.”

The Times staff writer sites the USGS and Penn State University studies that confirm that fracking wastewater is radioactive, “And in some cases, highly radioactive.

She summarizes a report co-authored by Mark Engle, USGS research geologist:

“A geological survey report 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.”

Here’s the results of the Penn State study, according to Morgan:

“The study, written by Penn State alum Lara Haluszczak, professor emeritus Arthur Rose, and professor and head of the Department of Geosciences Lee Kump, describes the radium and barium found in fracking flowback as originating from ancient brines instead of the fracking fluid used by the industry to frack wells. The report, which focused on flowback within 90 days of fracking in primarily Pennsylvania wells, has been approved for publication in the International Association of Geochemistry’s journal Applied Geochemistry.”

The EPA has announced plans to look into radioactive wastewater and publish results in 2014.  The article continues:

“The EPA says it plans to sample ground and surface water for radium-226, radium-229 and gross alpha and beta radiation, as well as other substances. It also says that hydraulic fracturing can increase the mobility of naturally occurring radioactive material within the Marcellus.”

Morgan says that the  New York-based Grassroots Environmental Education report found the same radioactivity present in 11 vertical wells that had been tested  This report was authored by Ivan White, “A career scientist for the National Council on Radiation Protection.”  She writes:

“Levels of radium in those wells averaged at 8,433 picocuries per liter. The EPA’s limit for drinking water is 5 pCi/L for both radium-226 and radium-228 combined.”

Horizontal drilling is even worse for radioactive contamination, authors of two of the fracking wastewater studies conclude:

“Both White and Engle say that horizontal wells have a higher chance of producing radioactive waste than their vertical counterparts, because horizontal wells’ exposure to the Marcellus is much greater, due to the mile-long horizontal bores coursing straight through the radioactive shale.”

So, what happens with all of the wastewater?  Fracking companies say that it is being recycled and reused for other wells.  They admit that some may end up in the water supply.   Morgan quotes attorney Adam Kron:

“As fracking has rapidly expanded, we’re seeing much more of this radioactive waste, which is a problem, since traditional landfills and wastewater treatment plants aren’t accustomed to handling it,” said Adam Kron, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “In fact, wastewater treatment plants aren’t able to remove radioactivity, and we’re starting to hear accounts of landfills receiving — and sometimes turning away — radioactive cuttings and sand from across state lines.”

The author concludes with this:

“Next up: Who’s in charge of regulating this stuff, anyway?”

Read the full article at http://www.timesonline.com/news/local_news/fracking-wastewater-can-be-highly-radioactive/article_ac1dd0e8-5a2f-57aa-8c5d-1d80273e261e.html

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