Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Where is the Radioactive Rod? How Halliburton Lost a Tiny Fracking Tool

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons

A radioactive rod has gone missing somewhere in West Texas. Sounds like a job for Radioactive Man.

Somebody call Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy. A radioactive rod is missing in the West Texas desert.

Sometime last Monday, September 11, a three-man team of Halliburton oilfield workers lost a radioactive rod used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The crew believes it was lost in an area of about 130 square miles, somewhere between a well site in Pecos and the crew’s destination south of Odessa. The tool was in the back of their truck, and at some point they noticed that the truck’s lock wasn’t in place (it was in the back of the truck) and the rod was missing. They went back to Pecos to see if it had been left at the drilling site, but it wasn’t there.

Now they’re turning to the National Guard for help.

Image Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons

The radioactive rod can be harmful if you experience prolonged exposure to it, the government says.

The rod is used in the drilling process known as “fracking.” They’re lowered down into wells to find the best places to break up shale to release oil and gas deposits deep underground, according to Bloomberg.

The rod is diminutive, just seven inches long, not much bigger than the new iPhone, encased in a steel container. But it does pack something of a punch. The rod is “not something that produces radiation in an extremely dangerous form. But it’s best for people to stay back, 20 or 25 feet,” Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for Texas Department of Health and Human Services, tells Bloomberg.

The radioactive material in the rod is americium-241/beryllium, or Am-241. It’s classified as a ‘Category 3’ source of radiation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That means, if it’s “not safely managed or securely protected, [it] could cause permanent injury to a person who handled them, or were otherwise in contact with them, for some hours,” the NRC says on the incident report.

“It could possibly – although it is unlikely – be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period of days to weeks,” the agency says.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells The Guardian that this is the first time one of these rods has been lost in the last five years.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cleared Halliburton of any criminal activity. The crew didn’t stop anywhere in between Pecos and Odessa, according to a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And they looked over the well site in Pecos again. And again.

They even drove between Pecos and Odessa on their route again, driving very slowly (between 5-10 miles an hour) and using well logging tools, instruments that measure radioactivity,  to try and find the rod. But the rod is still missing a week later.

Halliburton is offering an undisclosed reward for whoever finds it.


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