Pennsylvania sets study of radioactivity in drilling

Daniel Ertel holds a container of wastewater from a natural-gas well before it is treated at a Williamsport, Pa., plant.
Daniel Ertel holds a container of wastewater from a natural-gas well before it is treated at a Williamsport, Pa., plant. (ANDREW MAYKUTH / Staff)
Posted: January 26, 2013

Pennsylvania environmental regulators announced Thursday that they will study the naturally occurring radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development, which activists have raised as a threat from Marcellus Shale drilling.

The Department of Environmental Protection said the peer-reviewed study would examine radioactivity levels in liquid and solid wastes from drilling, and how the materials are transported, stored, and disposed.

Some environmentalists have raised fears that the natural radioactive material contained in deep bedrock might contaminate drilling wastes, streams, and even the natural gas itself.

The DEP says it routinely reviews radioactivity data in wastes. In 2011, it conducted tests of radiation in seven streams where treated drilling wastewater was being discharged, a practice since halted. The results showed that radioactivity levels were at or below normal background levels.

"The data right now show the levels are safe for workers and the public, and we want to make sure it stays that way," said Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman.

DEP has retained Perma-Fix Environmental Services of Pittsburgh to conduct the study, which is expected to take 12 to 14 months.

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, which has been critical of DEP's regulation of the drilling industry, said he welcomed the study but wondered why it was being initiated now.

"These are the things the public believes you would do ahead of time, before you have 6,000 wells drilled and have passed laws to make it virtually impossible to stop drilling," he said.

"If it didn't have that piece of academic peer review, I'd be more skeptical," he said.


Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947, @Maykuth on Twitter or amaykuth@phillynews.com.

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