Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania, Hundreds of disposal sites for frac wastewater could be similarly affected

‘Alarming’ presence of radioactivity found by Pennsylvania fracking wastewater study by RT, October 03, 2013
Radium is a radioactive metal that can cause diseases like leukemia and other ill-health effects if one is exposed to large amounts over time. … “The occurrence of radium is alarming – this is a radioactive constituent that is likely to increase rates of genetic mutation” and can be “a significant radioactive health hazard for humans,” said William Schlesinger, a researcher and president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, who wasn’t involved in the study. … Kasianowitz said the treatment facility is handling “conventional oil and gas wastewater in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.” Vengosh said that the research indicates that similar contamination may be happening around other fracking locations along the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.

Dangerous levels of radioactivity found at fracking waste site in Pennsylvania by The Guardian, October 2, 2013
Scientists have for the first time found dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. … The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year. Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters, the study found.

Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking. Sometimes that “flowback” water is re-injected into rock deep underground, a practice that can cause seismic disturbances, but often it is treated before being discharged into watercourses. Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream. Such elevated levels of radioactivity are above regulated levels and would normally be seen at licensed radioactive disposal facilities, according to the scientists at Duke University’s Nicholas school of the environment in North Carolina. Hundreds of disposal sites for wastewater could be similarly affected, said Professor Avner Vengosh, one of the authors of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal. “If people don’t live in those places, it’s not an immediate threat in terms of radioactivity,” said Vengosh. “However, there’s the danger of slow bio-accumulation of the radium. It will eventually end up in fish and that is a biological danger.”

The study also found elevated levels of salinity from the shale brine, which is five to 10 times more saline than sea water, that were 200-fold the regulated limit. Shale brine is also associated with high levels of bromide, which is not toxic by itself but turns into carcinogenic trihalomethanes during purification treatment.

The US Geological Service has previously reported elevated levels of radioactivity in “flowback” water that naturally occurs in the rock. But the Duke study, called Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania, is the first to use isotope hydrology to connect the dots between shale gas waste, treatment sites and discharge into drinking water supplies. From January to June 2013, the 4,197 unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania reported 3.5m barrels of fluid waste and 10.7m barrels of “produced” fluid. Most of that waste is disposed of within Pennsylvania, but some of it is also went to other states, such as Ohio and New York despite its moratorium on shale gas exploration. In July, a treatment company in New York state pleaded guilty to falsifying more than 3,000 water tests. Earlier this year, Vengosh published another report that found higher methane, ethane and propane concentrations in drinking water within a kilometre of shale gas drilling at 141 sites where drinking water samples were taken. [Emphasis added]

Fracking Study: Gas Production In Pennsylvania May Be Polluting Creek With Radioactive Waste by Huffingtonpost.com, October 2, 2013
“Each day, oil and gas producers generate 2 billion gallons of wastewater,” Jackson said Tuesday. “They produce more wastewater than hydrocarbons. That’s the broader implication of this study. We have to do something with this wastewater. The use of fossil fuels has a direct climate connection,” he said. “Hundreds of billions of gallons of wastewater is a consequence of our reliance – our addiction – to fossil fuels. That’s another price we pay for needing so much oil and gas. Cornell University environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, whose research has shown that climate change-driving methane emissions from shale gas extraction in the Marcellus may be significant, said methane concentrations could also be high in the fracking flowback wastewater the Josephine Brine plant treats. “Entrained in that flowback is methane,” he said. “Even before that waste goes to a place like Josephine, it’s stored in open pits, or stored in vented tanks. As such, it’s going to off-gas, not just methane, but VOCs (volatile organic compounds).” Ingraffea said the Duke study shows that one of the major problems with the rapid expansion of shale oil and shale gas development is that it requires an extremely high volume of water for fracking, which means there’s a high volume of waste associated with it. “That waste has to be properly captured, stored, transported and, ultimately, disposed of,” Ingraffea said, something the Duke study shows Josephine and other wastewater treatment plants like it are not accomplishing. The Duke study, “Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania,” will be published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Company fails to pay fine, faces criminal charge by Amy Dalrymple, October 2, 2013, Dickinson Press
The North Dakota Industrial Commission plans to pursue a criminal judgment against an oil and gas operator after it failed to pay a $1.5 million fine by the deadline, an official said Wednesday. The fine against Halek Operating ND LLC for violations that put Stark County’s drinking water at risk represents the largest fine ever levied against an oil and gas operator in North Dakota. The company missed last Friday’s deadline to pay the fine, so the commission is preparing paperwork to pursue a monetary judgment in district court, said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources. However, Helms said he “seriously doubts” the company will pay the full fine, pointing out that associated company Halek Energy LLC filed for bankruptcy in Texas. By filing for a criminal judgment, the Industrial Commission will be able to pursue confiscation of Halek’s $140,000 bond with the state, Helms said. In addition, the commission will try in court to confiscate other assets, including the disposal well where the violation occurred and a marginally producing oil well in the same area, Helms said. Halek injected saltwater – a byproduct of oil production – into a disposal well after being told to stop because the well was not up to state standards. An administrative judge who reviewed the evidence said the “egregious violations” caused considerable risk of contaminating underground drinking water sources.

A related criminal case against Montana man Nathan Garber was resolved this week in Southwest Judicial District Court with Garber ordered to serve probation and pay a $2,500 fine. Garber also is ordered to pay restitution of $1,804 to the Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency also is investigating the matter, and Helms said he anticipates Garber could face federal charges. The plea agreement with Garber was written so that if he is charged in any court for offenses related to the state case, it would not be considered a violation of his probation. The EPA has interviewed the state’s Department of Mineral Resources field inspectors, the assistant attorney general and other staff members, Helms said. The EPA is affected by the government shutdown and a request for comment was not returned Wednesday. … “We hope that this sends a strong message to operators and to their employees that we will aggressively pursue civil penalties and criminal penalties for willful violations,” Helms said. [Emphasis added]

Man sentenced for disposal well violation, A Montana man connected to oil and gas violations that put Stark County’s drinking water at risk has been ordered to pay a $2,500 fine by the Dickinson Press, October 1, 2013
A Montana man connected to oil and gas violations that put Stark County’s drinking water at risk has been ordered to pay a $2,500 fine. Nathan Garber pleaded guilty to violating the rules and regulations of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, a Class C felony. Under terms of a plea agreement, Garber received a two-year suspended sentence, according to records filed in Southwest Judicial District Court. The criminal charge was connected to a civil case against Halek Operating ND LLC, which was fined $1.5 million for injecting saltwater into a Stark County disposal well after the company was told the well was not up to state standards. Court records say Garber, president of Executive Drilling, directed another company to modify the disposal well site to mislead state inspectors. In addition to the fine, Garber was ordered to reimburse the Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division $1,804 for its cost in investigating the matter. Garber will serve probation in Montana, where he lives, according to court records. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Water supply for Hamlet of Rosebud Contaminated with Carcinogen Bromodichloromethane ]

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