Pennsylvania

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DEP Unveils More Details About Marcellus Radiation Study

Reuters/Tim Shaffer/Landov

A worker pours salt into a mixer as he prepares drilling fluid near Towanda. The DEP says based on current data, "there is no indication that the public or workers in the oil and gas industry face health risks from exposure to radiation."

The state Department of Environmental Protection has unveiled more details about how it plans to conduct a study of levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in materials associated with oil and gas drilling.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania reported, the DEP announced the study in January:

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.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday says today’s announcement explains more about the agency’s plans, but right now there’s no reason to believe the public is in any kind of danger.

“There’s nothing out there to indicate the public or industry face any kind of risk of radiation exposure.”

The agency has hired an outside contractor, Perma-Fix Environmental Services, which will work in conjunction with DEP staff to focus on the quantity of “naturally occurring radioactive materials” (NORM) and ”technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material” (TENORM).

NORM can become TENORM when materials are mixed together, moved, or otherwise changed.

The study will examine seven areas:

  • ambient air
  • drill cuttings
  • natural gas
  • natural gas processing pipes and equipment
  • waste water generated from drilling sites
  • sludge resulting from the processing of waste water from the well pad development process
  • landfill leachate
It’s expected to take 12 to14 months. Sampling will begin in mid-April at sites throughout the state, including areas producing “dry” gas in Northern and Central Pennsylvania as well as at least one “wet” gas site in the Southwestern part of the state.

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