Fracking wastewater not causing radioactivity issues in Pennsylvia rivers

Michael Giberson

The recent New York Times series on natural gas fracking suggested that poorly treated produced water was being discharged into streams and rivers in Pennsylvania, and that disposal of produced water was a larger environmental issue than groundwater contamination from poorly completed wells. A key concern raised in both industry and regulator documents discussed in the article was the potential radiation hazard, since the produced water will usually pick up radioactive components under ground and bring them to the surface.  (In an earlier post I lauded one article in the series for “advancing the public’s understanding of the issue.)

An Associated Press story today reports that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been monitoring water quality at several locations downriver from wastewater treatment plants handling the post-fracking produced water. The Pennsylvania DEP said all water samples from November and December  showed levels of radioactivity “at or below the normal naturally occurring background levels of radioactivity.”

(Reader ‘Fat Man’, commenting on the earlier post, used the data accompanying the news story and a couple of simple calculations to conclude that radioactivity should not be a concern.)

ADDED: Oil and gas industry group Energy in Depth offers responses to the recent New York Times articles on fracking, see “Third times the charm” and “On Wastewater and The New York Times.”

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2 thoughts on “Fracking wastewater not causing radioactivity issues in Pennsylvia rivers

  1. I am not the only one to complain about the NYTimes treatment of this topic:

    “Letters: Natural Gas Drilling, in the Spotlight” by Edward G. Rendell and John Hanger, respectively, former governor of Pennsylvania and former secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, in the NYTimes on March 6, 2011 at page WK9.

    * * *

    “If the goal of your report about natural gas drilling was to gratuitously frighten Pennsylvanians, then congratulations on a job well done. If it was to deliver an evenhanded examination of the critical balance that must be achieved between job creation, energy independence and environmental protection in regions with large natural gas deposits, then it was a mighty swing and a miss.

    “As the two people who enacted four regulatory packages strengthening drilling regulation and led the enforcement of the rules in Pennsylvania until January, we strongly disagree that there is lax regulation and oversight of gas drilling there.

    * * *

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