The Disposal of Fracking Waste Includes Radioactive Material

by Duane Nichols on February 17, 2018

Marcellus shale drill cuttings are generally radioactive

Fracking Waste Disposal: Still A Hot Mess in KY, WV, PA, OH, etc.

From an Article by Mary Meehan, Ohio Valley ReSource, February 14, 2018

The slogan for Estill County is “where the bluegrass kisses the mountains.” But since 2015 the county, population 15,000, is widely known as the place where radioactive material generated by the oil and gas industry in a process known as fracking was dumped near some schools.

As the Ohio Valley ReSource reported in 2016, tons of waste from the drilling practice known as fracking was hauled from state to state before being improperly disposed of in a county landfill not designed to hold radioactive material.

Drilling waste is also being dumped into public landfills in West Virginia.

This week the Concerned Citizens of Estill County and state officials squared off over how to best deal with the tons of radioactive waste. The landfill owners have been fined and are required to create a mitigation plan. Officials with the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet want to keep the waste in place. But local residents have a different idea. In the two years since the waste was discovered the community has come to a consensus on what should happen with the illegally dumped waste: Dig it up and move it out.

Estill County concerned citizen Tom Bonny makes the case for removing the radioactive waste at a public hearing.

Concerned Citizens member Tom Bonny said he first thought keeping the waste in place was the better solution. But when he considered the long-half life of the radioactive material coupled with its location near Estill County’s schools, he thought of the long-term consequences to the community. He is also concerned about the proximity of the landfill to the Kentucky River and potential danger to the water supply not only in Irvine but downstream. So, he changed his mind.

He said most folks he’s talked to feel the same way. “The majority of the people I have spoken with indicate they will not have full peace of mind if it is left in place,” he said.

The disagreement over how to deal with the mess is just a small part of a larger problem with a lack of regulation, oversight and monitoring of this difficult waste. And years after Estill County’s crisis brought attention to the matter, experts say little has changed to prevent similar incidents.

Forgotten Stepchild

Nadia Steinzor researches fracking waste for the non-profit environmental advocacy group Earthworks. She said the gas industry produces thousands of tons of “hot” waste and companies and state regulators throughout the Ohio Valley and the Marcellus Shale gas region struggle to find safe ways to get rid of it.

She said there is an ever-increasing volume of such material entering landfills across the country, often without the full knowledge of folks living closest to the landfill.

“It’s kind of the forgotten stepchild of the oil and gas shale boom and it’s something people need to be more concerned about,” she said. “The environmental impacts are very pernicious and it is increasing in volume and increasing across the landscape.”

Steinzor said the difficulty in tracking waste as it moves from state to state is compounded by the fact that many landfills are owned by private companies. This is especially important in places like Ohio and Kentucky which receive large amounts of waste from other states.

In 2016 Center for Public Integrity reporter Jie Jenny Zou documented a spotty patchwork of state regulations across the Appalachian Basin that created the conditions for improper disposal of the waste.
Steinzor said it’s crucial for people living near landfills to be aware of what’s being dumped there.

“There was one gentlemen in West Virginia who has been tracking what has been coming into that landfill there,” she said. “The guy stationed himself at the landfill entrance and asked every truck where they were coming from. He found they were coming from places generating oil and gas waste.

“That’s one way to find out!” Steinzor said with a laugh. She said that while the tracking of fracking waste has gotten more attention since the problems became known in Estill County not much has changed as far as policy is concerned.

“From a regulatory perspective, the policies and mandates and requirements that the industry has to adhere to are still lagging behind.”

Vigilant Communities

Estill County resident Rhonda Childers has been concerned about contamination at the landfill for 20 years. She was part of a group of activists who helped get rules in place to keep out radioactive material. But as the landfill changed owners those rules were forgotten or ignored.

“We let our guards down and we just kind of ignored this,” she said.

Childers said Estill County’s experience stands as an example to other communities to be vigilant about what is happening at local landfills.

“Today we are talking about Estill County, tomorrow we could be talking about… any county in the state of Kentucky,” she said.

If the condition of state laws and regulations is any indication, it’s also something that could happen at any number of landfills around the Ohio Valley.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Wendell Bradley February 18, 2018 at 9:25 pm

Dangers of Fracking Waste,
Is There Any Safe Way to Dispose of It?

Post by Wendell G Bradley, PhD Physics, December 8, 2017

Commercial Landfills in Colorado have been advised that disposal of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production (E&P) waste is not exempt from Colorado Solid Waste Regulations [1], for example, 6 CCR 1007-2. Disposal of fracking waste is a nation-wide problem.

Fracking’s vertical/horizontal drill tailings, flow-back/produced water, scale, and filter socks are all almost certainly radioactive at levels unacceptable for ordinary landfills. Pipe and tank scale exceed acceptable release levels the most due to their continuous build-up of waste [2].

Each oil-well completion destroys from 5 to 10 million gallons of fresh water [Scientific American, July 2015] — permanently removes it from the hydrologic cycle by deep-injection, waste-disposal wells; the lesser value if recycled once. Such injection is necessary because frack waste water is radioactive and otherwise dangerously polluted (benzene, biocides, formaldehyde, etc). Local Operators may or may not use filter socks, thus recycle their frack water. Water recycling is a typical claim, however, to deflect criticism of egregiously wasteful practices in a water-sensitive region.

The problem is described in detail

Operators are likely dumping E&P waste at radiation levels highly in excess of TENORM (technically enhanced, normally occurring radioactive materials) guidelines. This has recently prompted CDPHE’s concern. CDPHE approves radioactive releases at commercial landfills; COGCC at land spreads. Both claim it is the responsibility of ordinary waste recipients to guarantee that TENORM standards are being met. Acceptable release levels for Radium, for example, must be below 3pCi/gm [3]. Official corrective action should be taken (per the federal “AAL” or Analytic Action Level) for releases at levels greater than 210 pCi/gm.

Landfills and land spreads apparently have been relying on the measurements of Operators, who, in turn, justify their releases per a COGCC 2014 study [4]. That study, however, used a discredited measuring/testing protocol [5]. As a result, Operators are typically under measuring by at least factors of 100. Indeed, Table 1 of the Gradient Corporation study (cited above) cites a measurement of Radium in radioactive tank sludge at 1,293 pCi/gm, well above the TENORM-allowed release level of 3 pCi/gm. TENORM standards will require accurate testing for each radioactive dump load since radiation levels differ for each waste category and change over the large distances (2 to 3 mi) that a drilling pad’s spacing unit comprises.

Frack-waste’s radioactivity derives, in part, from the alpha-active NORM elements Uranium (U), Thorium (Th), and Radium (Ra) which cannot be quantitatively measured, only detected, via the conventional Geiger-type or gamma measuring devices Operators have been using to justify their radioactive releases.

A principle radiation danger of frack-waste arises from ingestion of its alpha sources. Although alpha particle radiation cannot even penetrate one’s skin, it can, once inside lungs and other internal organs, cause cancer. Radium is alpha active, water soluble, and bone-seeking. Ra-226 remains a threat for thousands of years–has a half-life of 1600 years. It can become airborne in dust from drill sites, uncovered transport trucks, disposal landfills and field spreads. It can migrate from top soil spills into groundwater.

Assessments conducted by Operators have greatly under measured alpha radiation because they were done on wet frack waste containing high total dissolved solids (TDS) such as salts. It takes a special test for radioactivity in frack-water; the common drinking water test fails.

Ra levels can be underestimated by 99% [Environmental Science & Technology Letters: 2014, DOI:10.1021/ez5000379] Michael K. Shultz, prof of radiology, U of Iowa, showed EPA’s drinking water test is unsuitable for frack-water’s high TDS (concentration of ions). Indeed, the ‘coprecipitation method’ (of the EPA’s 900 series protocol) accounts for less than 1% of the Ra present. Accordingly, Avner Vengosh, geochemist, Duke U, urges that Ra be measured in frack-water directly with gamma ray spectroscopy. [Chemical and Engineering News, ISSN 0009-2347, copyright @ 2017 American Chemical Society]

The EPA method (900 series protocol) simply doesn’t work in high salt solutions. Even in treated frack-water, Ra levels can measure 200 times higher when proper protocols are used. The 21 day holding period of 900 series protocol is also inadequate.

See also, Analysis of Radium-226 in High Salinity Wastewater from Unconventional Gas Extraction by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry, T. Zhang, Dept of Geology and Planetary Science, U of Pittsburgh. [Environmental Science & Technology, 2015, 49(5), pp 2969-2976] Zhang outlines a method that requires only a several-hour holding period, and it matches gamma spectrometry results.

Using EPA’s 900 series measuring protocol allows dumping of large quantities of dangerously radioactive waste into landfills, according to FrackTracker Alliance. A feature in A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy [publication 23 (i), 117-35 doi: 10.2190/ns 23.1.h] analyzed fracking’s reserve pit sludge. It found total beta radiation of 1329 pCi/g in Barnett Shale sludge, which exceeded Texas regulatory guide lines by more than 800%.

Accurate radiation measurements of frack-waste require an expensive spectrometry device [6] and at least a 21-day holding period, which an ordinary land fill will not find practical. The cost of independent, third-party safety measurements of radiation should be borne by the Operator.



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