Radioactive Frack Waste Dumping Prohibited

W.Va. bans wastewater from being let loose in rivers, streams, wells

WHEELING – West Virginia environmental regulators do not allow natural gas companies to dump radioactive frack water from drilling sites into streams, rivers or injection wells.

Pennsylvania regulators are preparing to screen the frack water for radioactive elements such as uranium and radium.

These elements are found in fracking wastewater because they are naturally occurring in the earth.

Mountain State officials said such rules are already in place in West Virginia to prevent these elements from entering the state’s water supplies.

“Back in 2009, we informed the wastewater treatment plants that if they wanted to try to treat the frack water, there were 41 parameters beyond what they were currently testing for that they would be required to monitor, and one of those was for radiation,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kathy Cosco.

“If a wastewater treatment plant came to us and said, ‘We want to try to treat this fluid,’ it is already understood that they would be required to test for those parameters and the radiation,” she added.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber admits natural gas development can release radioactive materials, but said the levels of the released elements do not pose much of a hazard.

The coalition is a Canonsburg, Pa.-based group whose members include drilling companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, along with others.

“In Pennsylvania, we are now required to treat the water to the point that it is drinkable by the time it leaves our facilities,” she added.

Prodded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania regulators said they are expanding the scope of water tests to screen for radioactive pollutants and other contaminants. The tests should check for radium, uranium and the salty dissolved solids that could potentially make drilling wastewater environmentally damaging, according to letters Keystone State officials sent to 14 public water authorities and 25 wastewater facilities.

Radium that is swallowed or inhaled can accumulate in a person’s bones. Long-term exposure increases the risk of developing several diseases, such as lymphoma, bone cancer, and diseases that affect the formation of blood, EPA officials said.

Most major gas producing states require drillers to dump their wastewater into deep shafts drilled into the earth to prevent it from contaminating surface water.

Although it has moved to limit it, Pennsylvania allows partially treated drilling wastewater to be discharged into rivers from which communities draw drinking water.

Some Pennsylvania drilling wastewater is reused or trucked out-of-state for disposal underground. Cosco said West Virginia does not allow frack water to be injected into these underground wells, but Ohio does. The well David Hill Inc. is drilling at the top of Kirkwood Heights near Bridgeport may become one of these injection wells, prompting Belmont County Township Association President Greg Bizzarri to recently say, “It seems like, basically, Ohio is a dumping ground.”

Of the wastewater that was taken to Pennsylvania treatment plants in recent months, the great majority went to seven plants that discharge into the Allegheny River, the Mahoning River, the Conemaugh River, the Blacklick Creek, the Monongahela River, the Susquehanna River and the South Fork Ten-mile Creek.

Last month, the Pennsylvania DEP said earlier tests from those seven waterways showed no harmful levels of radium, which exists naturally underground and is sometimes found in drilling wastewater that gushes from wells.

EPA spokeswoman Donna Heron said her agency would review the Keystone State’s situation, noting, “We will continue to work closely with the state of Pennsylvania on all the issues involving Marcellus Shale.”The EPA is currently planning a nationwide study on the environmental consequences, particularly the impact on the quality and quantity of water.

Though Klaber said the issue of radioactivity may be exaggerated by some of those who oppose natural gas development, she also knows there are legitimate community concerns for her industry to address.

“We are trying to respond to those concerns,” she said. “We have to make sure we get this right, considering how important drinking water is.”

April 8, 2011
By CASEY JUNKINS – Staff Writer With AP Dispatches , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

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