Radioactivity in Fracking Waste
A typical well takes 2 to 5 million gallons of fluid to frack for natural gas. Of that, 10 to 50 percent returns to the surface. The returning fluid not only contains the chemicals that were in the fracking fluid, but when it returns to the surface it contains radioactive materials and salts that it picked up from deep inside the earth. The waste fluid sometimes also contains arsenic from deep inside the earth.
The New York Times reported that hydraulic fracturing wastewater at 116 of 179 deep gas wells in Pennsylvania contained high levels of radiation and its effect on public drinking water supplies is unknown because water suppliers are only required to conduct tests of radiation sporadically.
The radioactivity found in much of the fracking waste consists of radium-226 which has a 1/2 life of 1,600 years. Radium is a carcinogen that poses a significant threat to human health. Radioactivity should never be released into the environment in an uncontrolled manner, warns a white paper by E. Ivan White, a staff scientist for the National Council on Radiation Protection. A U.S. Geological Survey report shows excess levels of radioactivity in wastewater from the Marcellus shale.
Radioactivity in the Black Shale, Julie Weatherington-Rice, PhD, Soil Science Presenter: This half-hour youtube clip describes the inability of casual readings to properly assess radioactivity of waste. In particular, note at roughly minute 19:00 when Dr. Weatherington-Rice points out that radium-226 and radium-228 emit alpha and beta, but that the gamma emitters cannot be measured in the field. A sample must be taken and then a waiting period is required. Weatherinton-Rice states that, according to the Department of Energy, a minimum 21-day waiting period is required in order to get an in-growth curve measuring the decay products of radium, which are lead and bismuth. At that time, gamma spectrometry must be conducted in the lab to assess the gamma emitters in the sample. The proper handling, management, testing, and oversight of this highly radioactive material is simply not viable,
Note from David Brown, Sc.D., Public Health toxicologist
This is important relative to waste identification. However it is a long talk and it is heavy science. The end of the talk is most informative. If Connecticut DEEP assumes that it will know when fracking (Unconventional Natural Gas Drilling, UNGD) waste is coming into the state so that it can be labeled as "Hazardous Waste," there needs to be a process to identify the sources of all waste, because some of the fracking waste can be combined with other waste streams.Radium cannot be measured with a geiger counter in shale cuttings and drilling muds.
The most dangerous hazard, in my opinion, is the uptake of water-soluble-radium into ground and surface water—and then the ingestion of that water into the body. Once the radium is deposited in the body in the same places as calcium, the radioactive alpha and beta energy will damage the cellular DNA. This then, is the carcinogenic process.
The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Pennsylvania reports that the Marcellus shale deposits contain natural radioactivity from the elements uranium and thorium, and their radioactive decay products, notably radium-226. Researchers warn, "In theory, Marcellus shale development can release radioactivity into the environment in three ways. First, rock cuttings from drilling may be improperly disposed. Second, wastewater may be improperly treated and discharged into streams and rivers. Third, wastewater may be intentionally released into the environment - such as by spreading it on roads as deicing material. In each case, radioactivity can potentially harm plants and animals in natural ecosystems."
Download the report from Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D., Ekaterina Alexandrova, Jackie Travers. May 19, 2010. Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale. Radioactive Waste Management Associates (pdf). Read more on Fracking and Radioactivity on CounterPunch.