Hydraulic Fracturing Radiological
Concerns for Ohio
Melissa Belcher, M.S. and Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D.
Fracking Waste: Production and Disposal
It is a known fact that the Marcellus and Utica
shale formations are radioactive, with concentrations of radium-226
that are up to 30 times background.
In the process of drilling and
fracturing wells (fracking) in shale formations, to produce natural
gas, this underground radioactivity is brought to the surface, but
where does it go?
Oil and gas companies, along
with the State agencies they’ve bamboozled, would have you believe
any radioactivity present in waste streams is either within
regulatory limits, not within the jurisdiction of State governments
to regulate, or non-existent.
Translation 1: the radium-226
in Marcellus shale inexplicably disappears when it is brought to the
Translation 2: the oil and gas
industry does not want to pay the true costs of transporting,
managing or disposing the radioactive waste they are producing.
In this fact sheet, we want to
cut through this murky haze that is settling over Ohio.
We will explore the situation
at the Patriot water treatment plant in Warren, OH, solid waste
disposal in landfills, the potential impact of fracking near public
drinking water supplies, specifically near the Muskingum River
Watershed, the safety of transporting waste liquids and solids from
Pennsylvania and other states to Ohio via trucks, rail and barges
and the potential costs of proper disposal.
The process of hydro-fracking, used to obtain
natural gas and other related products from underground shale
formations, requires a large quantity of water to complete the
process- over 3 million gallons of water per treatment.
Drillers take water from
underground aquifers, or surface water bodies, such as Seneca Lake,
which is clearly convenient and also serves to disguise the effects
of large water withdrawals (discussed in section: Are there
additional environmental concerns?).
Drilling fluid is used to
remove the rock cuttings from horizontal wells in the Marcellus
shale formations and to transport the drill cuttings to the well
The list of chemicals added to
the water throughout the fracking process is extensive and
concerning- including diesel, rust inhibitors, proppants and
Some of the drilling fluid
returns to the surface in the form of flowback water once the well
When the well is producing
natural gas, any contained moisture, known as brine, is removed.
Brine contains high
concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive materials from the
To add even more concern to an
already highly debated process, fracking operations are currently
zeroing in on the stretch of Marcellus shale that lies at depths of
4000 to 8500 feet below the Earth’s surface and ranges from West
Virginia through eastern Ohio across Pennsylvania and into southern
The concern for the Muskingum
Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) is that hydraulic pressure
often forces drilling fluids through weak sections of well casing or
into abandoned wells, thereby contaminating aquifers.
Reports have shown that Marcellus shale deposits,
compared to other shale formations in other parts of the country,
are much more radioactive. New York DEC sampled flowback water from
vertical Marcellus shale wells and found that the liquid contained
radioactive concentrations as high as 267 times the limit for
discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit for
Brine from horizontal drilling,
as being done throughout Pennsylvania, will be much more
radioactive, quoted by New York DEC as high as 15,000 pCi/L.
Fracking not only brings this
highly radioactive material to the Earth’s surface, but exists in
the solid and liquid waste that is created as a result of the
Radioactivity in oil and gas
wastewaters has been found to exceed the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s drinking water limits by up to 3,600 times,
exceeding federal industrial discharge limits set by the Nuclear
Regulatory Agency by more than 300 times.
We discuss the impact on water treatment
facilities, such as the Patriot plant in Warren, Ohio and the
proposed GreenHunter facility located on the Ohio River in the
section of this report titled: Treatment Facilities Under Fire.
While Ohio regulations
(1509.22) require that releases to surface waters not exceed Safe
Drinking Water standards, in our opinion, these waste streams are
not being safely managed and regulated in Ohio.
Simply allowing waste materials
to meet drinking water standards allows mixing at water treatment
plants, that is, dilution, without adequate monitoring or
measurement for radioactivity before or after discharge.
Ohio law also allows spreading of radioactive
brine from wells that are “not horizontal wells” on land and
highways – thereby potentially ending up in drinking water sources,
or being re-suspended in the air.
There is no method to proving
or certifying where the brine has actually come from, therefore
making it nearly impossible to detect violations from spreading
radioactive brine from horizontal wells on roadways.
A management plan to deal with waste material
from fracking and natural gas production needs to be put in place
immediately and action needs to happen now.
So what does this mean for Ohio?
Even though fracking in Ohio is not yet occurring
at intense levels as in other states, the State has been victim to
the process especially because the State is making itself available
as a dumping ground for the waste from other places, such as
Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Both liquid and solid fracking
waste, of radioactive nature, is trucked across state lines to Ohio
landfills and processed to take to wastewater treatment plants for
There is an estimated 2,000
wells scheduled to be permitted in the near future.
Many wells are already drilled,
simply awaiting fracking while the infrastructure is being
is encouraged throughout Ohio, the state could see more than 4,000
fracking wells drilled over the next ten years. Consider this: it
takes between 2 and up to 8 million gallons of water to fracture a
single Marcellus shale well one time, and each well may be fractured
From 5% to 35% of the
fluids initially stay underground in the well itself, while the
remainder returns to the surface and must be either re-used or
issues associated with this process are focused on contamination of
water resources, where this radioactive waste should be disposed of
and how to properly manage it as well as the irreversible damage it
may be contributing to the environment and human health.
This will also place an
exorbitant demand on the fresh water resource in the State of Ohio.
Is it worth it?
Below are a few current
examples of how waste is currently being treated in the state of
Ohio and the issues associated with the process.
Fact Sheet Prepared for
FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio
PO Box 473
Grand Rapids, Ohio 43522
June 13, 2013
Melissa Belcher, M.S. and Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D.
Radioactive Waste Management Associates
P.O. Box 105
Bellows Falls, VT 05101