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Environmentalists Call for New Study of Fracking Radiation

Radium 226 found in fracking waste has a half-life of 1,600 years. (Delaware Riverkeeper Network)
Radium 226 found in fracking waste has a half-life of 1,600 years. (Delaware Riverkeeper Network)
December 24, 2015

BRISTOL, Pa. - Environmentalists say a state study of radiation in waste from gas drilling is inaccurate and incomplete. The Department of Environmental Protection study found little cause for concern about radioactive materials in waste from drilling operations.

But Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, says scientists have known for years, compared with other shale formations, Marcellus shale has high levels of radiation.

"The various scientific reports point out that when the Marcellus shale is fracked, that radioactivity, which is naturally occurring in those deep formations, comes back up to the surface," says Carluccio.

The Network has published its own report, criticizing the DEP study for inaccurate or incomplete sampling of rock cuttings and waste water, and failing to take action when radiation was detected. A lobbying organization for the gas drilling industry has dismissed the criticisms as "baseless."

But according to Carluccio, the samples tested by the company hired to do the DEP study may not reflect the true amounts of radiation present in the waste materials.

"For instance, where you have drill cuttings buried at well sites they basically took samples from the surface they did not do push probes," says Carluccio.

Push probes, she says, would better sample radiation in the drill cuttings themselves and in the surrounding soil.

Carluccio says trucks carrying drilling waste to landfills sometimes set off radiation detectors and though the DEP report said radiation levels in water that accumulates at these sites was too low to pose a health risk, Carluccio points out the amount of waste being buried at those sites continues to grow.

"If radium 226 is ending up in the leachate at these landfills, then it's ending up in our environment and it could even enter our drinking-water sources," she says.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network says the DEP study is so flawed that the agency needs to start over and conduct a whole new study.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA