America’s Radioactive Secret

Justin Nobel, Science Journalist for ROLLING STONE, DeSmog, and other US magazines and investigative sites, presents his findings on the radioactivity found in oil and gas development during a Delaware Riverkeeper webinar. Begins at the 11:20 mark of video:


TENORM: Stories on Fracking’s Radioactive Waste by Joshua Boaz Pribanic and the newsCOUP team at Public Herald
“In Pennsylvania, the final destination of 66 percent of liquid waste from 30 municipal landfills accepting fracking’s oil and gas waste remains unknown. Oil and gas waste from fracking contains high concentrations of Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM), and wherever this radioactive TENORM waste is stored, rain carries water-soluble radionuclides such as Radium-226 through the landfill to create what’s known as leachate – the landfill’s liquid waste. This TENORM-laden leachate is commonly sent to Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTPs) that are not equipped to remove it before it’s dumped into rivers.”

A Hot Fracking Mess: How the Lack of Regulation of Oil and Gas Production Leads to Radioactive Waste in Our Water, Air, and Communities by Amy Mall & Bemnet Alemayehu
NRDC – 21 July 2021
“Oil and gas extraction activities, including fracking, drilling, and production, can release radioactive materials that endanger workers, nearby communities, and the environment. The United States has known about these dangers for at least 30 years, ever since an EPA report revealed the health risks of unregulated radioactive oil and gas waste. Since then, additional research has confirmed those findings. Yet, even as oil and gas exploration and production have boomed across the United States, the country continues to lack any specific federal regulations governing the handling and disposal of radioactive waste and materials generated from these activities, leaving Americans reliant on spotty and loophole-ridden state oversight.” (PDF Download)

Hydraulic Fracturing, Radioactive Waste, and Inconsistent Regulation by Hella B. Zelleke
“Ninety-eight percent of oil and gas waste is produced water—a radioactive by-product of the hydraulic fracturing industry. This wastewater contains concentrated radioactive materials known as Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (“TENORM”). However, TENORM is not regulated under federal law, because of broad exemptions by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Exemptions that carved out protections for a small industry, where nearly seventy percent of wells produced about ten barrels of oil per well per day, have now grown large enough to exempt wells that can produce as much as 1,100 barrels of oil per day. These outdated exemptions do not address the threat radioactive hydraulic fracturing waste presents to public health and the environment.”

Unconventional oil and gas development and ambient particle radioactivity
Nature Communications – 13 October 2020
“We collected the ambient particle radioactivity (PR) measurements of RadNet, a nationwide environmental radiation monitoring network. We obtained the information of over 1.5 million wells from the Enverus database. We investigated the association between the upwind UOGD well count and the downwind gross-beta radiation with adjustment for environmental factors governing the natural emission and transport of radioactivity. Two studies in the Marcellus shale region found a positive association between UOGD activities and indoor levels of Radon-222, a gaseous decay product of Ra-226.”

Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Waste: report and interactive map by Melissa Troutman
Earthworks – 10 September 2019
“Since Earthworks’ 2015 report Wasting Away, minimal protections have been gained via state law, and several key policy gaps remain that continue to expose the public to carcinogenic, radioactive toxins from oil and gas waste. This update shares case studies, reveals the latest waste data trends, and offers recommendations for protecting Pennsylvania and communities.” (PDF Download)

Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Spreading Oil and Gas Wastewater on Roads
Environmental Science & Technology – 30 May 2018
“Thirteen states in the United States allow the spreading of O&G wastewaters on roads for deicing or dust suppression. In this study, the potential environmental and human health impacts of this practice are evaluated. Analyses of O&G wastewaters spread on roads in the northeastern, U.S. show that these wastewaters have salt, radioactivity, and organic contaminant concentrations often many times above drinking water standards.”

Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers by Ian Urbina
New York Times – 26 February 2011 (Subscription required)
“While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood. The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not
designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity
at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is
safe for these treatment plants to handle. Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law. The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.”
Contaminants in Samples From More Than 200 Wells (Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet)

Yup, they knew 61 years ago!

Oil Yield and Uranium Content of Black Shales (PDF – 1960)
Geological Survey Professional Paper 356-A: This report concerns work done on behalf of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and is published with the permission of the Commission.


TENORM Mountains

Pennsylvania Fracking Reform

Fracked in Pennsylvania


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