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PA DEP to Study Radiation Related to Marcellus Shale

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A worker at a frack water recycling plant operated by Cabot Oil and Gas holds up a treated water sample. Gas drillers have begun recycling their waste water, but some part of the waste solids, which can contain radioactive materials, have to be sent to landfills.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection plans to study levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in materials associated with oil and gas drilling. The announcement comes  almost two years after a series of reports in the New York Times revealed radioactive waste water from gas drilling was discharged into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. The industry has since stopped the practice, but the DEP says it plans to analyze radioactivity in frack flowback water, drill cuttings, drill mud, and the levels in equipment such as pipes, well casings storage tanks, treatment systems and trucks.

 “This administration is undertaking what will be the most comprehensive study of its kind anywhere, and Gov. Corbett has directed us to do so in order to be proactive for the future and to continue Pennsylvania’s leadership in responsible development of domestic natural gas resources,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said through a press release. “This thorough and rigorous study, which will focus on conditions here in Pennsylvania, is further demonstration that states are best suited to responsibly oversee the natural gas exploration and production activities taking place in our respective borders.

Krancer has repeatedly pushed back against federal oversight when it comes to oil and gas drilling.
The DEP says radioactivity associated with oil and gas waste has been detected at landfills, but not at levels harmful to public health. The agency has hired Perma-Fix Environmental Services to help conduct the study. The study plan will be peer-reviewed by independent researchers.
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or NORM, are buried beneath the soil across the state. Marcellus Shale contains uranium, thorium, radium-228 and radium-226. The radioactive material can be released through the drilling process in drill cuttings, and flowback water.
A report by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a higher level of radioactivity in Marcellus Shale deposits compared with similar formations in other parts of the country.

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