Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Radioactive news on Marcellus Shale water

"As New York gears up for a massive expansion of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, state officials have made a potentially troubling discovery about the wastewater created by the process: It's radioactive. And they have yet to say how they'll deal with it."

So reports Pro Publica, the investigative journalism organization that, in a series of reports, has raised questions about the environmental impacts of the use of hydraulic fracturing to release and capture natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale.

The latest news comes from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, "which analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought thousands of feet to the surface from drilling
and found that they contain levels of radium-226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink."

The findings could have a significant effect on the cost of drilling operations, which have been on hold in New York as the state develops specific regulations to address natural gas drilling.

If the findings are backed up with additional tests, Pro Publica predicts:

"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. Companies would need to license their waste handlers and test their workers for radioactive exposure, and possibly ship waste across the country. And the state would have to sort out how its laws for radioactive waste might apply to drilling and how the waste could impact water supplies and the environment."

In Pennsylvania, where no similar regulatory review has been imposed by state government, drilling operations are moving ahead in high gear.

“Susquehanna County is inundated with drilling, fracking, water trucks, residual waste trucks and more companies coming in,” County Commissioner MaryAnn Warren told the Centre Daily Times. “People are going to get rich, but I am worried about our natural resources.”

Stephen Rhoads, president of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, said Wednesday that the Marcellus “play” in Pennsylvania is still in its infancy. He said the limited permitting and drilling statistics compiled to date are not sufficient to show a trend, although he expected to see an increase in the number of permits and the number of wells drilled.

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