Monday, November 09, 2009

Deep gas drilling wastewater shows up radioactive

The big Marcellus Shale gas play in New York and Pennsylvania ran into new questions with recent discoveries that drilling and fracturing the deep rock formation generates radioactive wastewater. New York's Department of Environmental Conservation found that 11 of 13 samples contained levels of radium-226 in concentrations "as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment," reports Abraham Lustgarten of ProPublica, the nonprofit investgative reporting outlet run by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

If the findings are backed up by subsequent tests, "the energy industry would likely face stiffer regulations and expenses, and have more trouble finding treatment plants to accept its waste -- if any would at all," Lustgarten writes. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes exposure guidelines for radium, which is known to cause bone, liver and breast cancers, but many disagree over how dangerous low-level doses can be to workers who handle it, or to the public.

"Handling and disposal of this wastewater could be a public health concern," New York Health Department officials said in a confidential letter to the DEC's oil and gas regulators, which was obtained by ProPublica. "The issues raised are not trivial, but are also not insurmountable." New York drilling plans don't specify when state laws governing radioactive materials would apply, Lustgarten reports. Some experts say leftover sludge is likely to exceed the legal limits for hazardous waste and would need to be shipped across the country to landfills permitted to handle such material. One industry official told Lustgarten that disposal would be an acceptable cost of doing business. (Read more) Click on ProPublica map to make it interactive.

1 comment:

Martha Speaks said...

If New Yorkers want to see what happens when you let the oil companies drill unsupervised in shale formations, just observe the upcoming Kentucky Supreme Court oral arguments in Cantrell v. Ashland Oil. Ashland Oil polluted the town of Martha, Kentucky with radioactive waste and walked away, leaving the landowners and taxpayers of KY to clean up the mess. New York, be careful.