November 17, 2010 -
In my two previous blogs,
Fracking Water and
Fracking Water Part 2, readers were introduced to issues that
have developed in the Monongahela River (“The Mon”) since Marcellus
Shale drilling got underway in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Mon
River is the source of our tapwater, along with another 350,000
people in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.
Since my last blog on
our Mon River tapwater there have been a few changes:
has greatly increased in our area and Pennsylvania in general,
with drilling activity set to double again next year.
results will create a very pro-drilling attitude in our state
capitol over the next few years.
Shale drilling companies have been bought-out by large oil
companies and/or multi-national corporations.
The DEP instituted
new standards for the level of TDS (total dissolved solids)
dumped into the Mon River and other waterways in Pennsylvania
Bromide levels have
increased in the Mon River, further linking Marcellus drilling
activities to our water quality problems.
Since Mon River
water has exceeded safe TDS levels for the third year running,
groups have called for the DEP to declare the Mon an “impaired
DEP has been successfully challenged on
riparian rights and its
illegal permitting of water withdrawals by Marcellus Shale
But the most disturbing topic of
all, even after all those, is the elephant in the room. And he’s
glowing. It’s the one you hear mentioned occasionally, but never
really discussed – Marcellus Shale is radioactive. “So what”
you say, that stuff is over a mile deep around Pittsburgh. And you
may even buy into all the PR from the drilling companies when they
tell you the shale is so deep it has no chance of contaminating
drinking water. Of course those who have read my first two
installments of this blog on the Mon River KNOW that Marcellus
drilling already HAS contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of
thousands people, myself included. While everyone’s focus is on
water wells, not enough attention has been placed on the wastewater
being “legally” dumped into our rivers.
This takes us to
Radioactivity in Marcellus Shale (PDF), the title of a report
released by a group of radioactive waste specialists in May 2010.
They were contracted by a group of concerned
Residents for the
Preservation of Lowman and Chemung (RFPLC) in New York. They are
trying to defend themselves from the radioactive waste that is being
hauled into New York from Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale drilling.
While the paper is very technical, it is also very readable.
The report brings up another big
question about our Mon River tapwater,
does it also contain Radium-226, due to all the inadequately
processed drilling wastewater still being dumped into the Mon River?
The report discusses Radium-226 and
what it means to us in these very telling sentences:
“Radioactivity in the Marcellus
shale results from the high content of naturally occurring
radioactive uranium and thorium, their decay products including
Ra-226, and radioactive potassium elements. The evidence of high
radionuclide content is present in geochemical studies and in
gamma-ray logs from wells drilled into the Marcellus formation.”
(The abbreviation NORM is often used
for “naturally occurring radioactive material”)
To paraphrase more key portions of
“There are several steps in the
Marcellus shale drilling process that allow radionuclides,
particularly Radium-226, to concentrate in liquid waste.
is a highly water-soluble radionuclide and will preferentially
dissolve in the drilling fluid under the pressure and temperature
conditions below ground. When produced water is brought to the
surface, it carries with it dissolved solids and other compounds
that may be present in the reservoir and rock formation, including
(Now we get to the most disturbing
part of the report…)
“Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600
years and, if deposited in a landfill, will remain there essentially
forever. If the landfill is ever inhabited in the future, crops
grown in the soil will concentrate radium and be ingested. As we
(previously) noted, exposures to landfill workers and those who eat
fruits and vegetables grown more than 1,000 years in the future over
the closed landfill would exceed current health-based dose limits.
Ra-226 is a carcinogen and, when ingested or inhaled, concentrates
in the bone and can cause leukemia.”
Three weeks ago I had the
opportunity to personally ask the Secretary of the Pennsylvania DEP,
John Hanger, one question when he was on a Town Hall panel at WQED-TV:
I asked Secretary Hanger:
we going to quit dumping Marcellus wastewater into our rivers?”
Of course his answer alluded to
improvements made by the new 500 mg/l TDS standard imposed in August
2010, which he said brings this dumped wastewater up to “drinking
water standards.” While the secretary probably wasn’t trying to be
deceptive, the term “drinking water standards” is still very deceptive.
This doesn’t mean it would be anything fit to drink, only that the
clarity of the water is at “drinking water standards.” Clarity,
mind you, not purity. It’s what you can’t see that often kills you.
Or makes you real sick.
Stuck on Stupid
When I testified in front of the EPA
at their Southpointe hearing in July, my comments included this:
“Partially treated wastewater is
still being dumped in our drinking water. Where else in the US is
that being done? None that I have found. We are stuck on stupid,
contaminating our own drinking water. They are poisoning the state
P.S. The rest of
the story -
In light of what we just learned in the report about the
radioactivity of Marcellus Shale, consider how some drilling
companies have been "restoring" their drilling sites to conditions
they say are "as good or better" than before.
The pits you see in the photos below are
called "production pits" or "separation pits." These pits have held
the most concentrated drill cuttings and Marcellus drilling fluids
during the drilling process. Is this concentrated material hauled
On the two pads shown below -- NO.
It is being dug into the ground and left for eternity. If this is
your leased land, you are left with the toxic waste and the
What about your ground water and water
"Out of sight, out of (your)
"Behind the curtain"