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Marcellus Shale Waste Trips Radioactivity Alarms

Aug 23, 2013

In 2012, about 1,000 trucks bringing tons of waste from the Marcellus Shale tripped radioactivity alarms.

About 15,769 tons of waste were stopped at a landfill in Pennsylvania after the waste material tripped radioactivity alarms at the gate, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The trucks were not permitted to enter and hand-held detectors were “wanded” over the contents; some contents were sent to laboratories for additional evaluation. Of that, 622 tons were sent to three out-of-state landfills equipped to dispose of materials hazardous and/or radioactive. The rest was deemed safe for burial with other waste, assuming the waste remains below the yearly limit set by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A rise in this type of activity is in line with increased fracking at the Marcellus Shale, prompting the DEP’s launch of a year-long study of radioactive Marcellus waste to understand risks associated with waste disposal, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Meanwhile, the DEP’s Bureau of Waste Management formed a working group to: create rejected-load tracking protocols, advise gas operators on how to characterize waste, create landfill waste acceptance criteria, and describe how well sites and waste treatment plants handle residual waste.

The alarms flagged about 1 percent of all Marcellus waste meant for landfills in 2012, according to state figures. Most was comprised of drill cuttings—pieces of earth pulled during drilling—as well as flow-back water, fracking sand, and fluids turned into sludge for disposal. The sludge is believed to be contributing to increased radiation, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Fracking drilling involves the drilling injection of massive amounts of water, sand, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals underground via a concrete well that extends to an underground shale rock bed. When this mixture reaches the rock, it is blasted apart and natural gas is released and meant to be returned to the surface and captured.

Fracking critics have long argued that fracking devastates the environment and contaminates groundwater and underground water aquifers; this also contaminates area and widespread fresh water supplies. Either through the fault of shoddy wells, poorly trained well workers, or a questionable drilling process, natural gas and the contents of the drilling fluid may be released underground through cracks in the wells or the fractures created by the drilling. Area residents closest to wells believe that this leads to contamination of their private water supplies, sometimes rendering water completely contaminated.

The massive Marcellus shale formation is thought to contain billions of dollars in natural gas reserves. As fracking activities have expanded and thousands of wells have been opened in recent years, residents from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey have raised concerns over the safety of fracking drilling.

Some believe fracking is an answer to a downturned economy and energy independence; many more people believe that fracking is putting the fresh water supplies for millions of people at risk of contamination, with the risks greater for those living closest to the drilling boom.

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