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FrackingWastewater from fracking is often highly radioactive

Published 5 February 2013

New studies have found that waste from fracking operations can be highly radioactive. A geological survey reported that millions of barrels of wastewater from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and conventional wells in New York are 3,609 times more radioactive than the federal limit for drinking water, and 300 times more radioactive than a Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for nuclear plant discharges.

Different studies  by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Penn State University, and other  groups found that  waste from fracking can be highly radioactive.

A study by Penn State’s Department of Geosciences found that wastewater from fracking contains high levels of radium and barium.

The study, conducted by Lee Kump, the head of the Department of Geosciences, Penn State Alum Laral Haluszczak, and professor Arthur Rose, said the radium and barium found in flowback originated from ancient brines instead of the fluid used for fracking a well.

“Even if it’s (radioactive materials) diluted quite a bit, it’s still going to be above the drinking water limits,” Rose told Penn State Live, the university’s official news source. “There’s been very little research into this.”

The Herald-Standard reports that a geological survey reported that millions of barrels of wastewater from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and conventional wells in New York are 3,609 times more radioactive than the federal limit for drinking water, and 300 times more radioactive than a Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for nuclear plant discharges.

USGS research geologist Mark Engle, who co-authored the report, said flowback from the Marcellus shale contains significantly higher levels of radiation than other similar formations.

“There (isn’t) a lot of data but in general, the Marcellus appears to be anomalously high,” Engle told the Standard.

The USGS is currently sampling produced waters from all types of oil and gas in states that have done fracking, which include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, and Montana, and a few more reports are in the works according to Engle.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a progress report of a full report on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources late last year.  

The EPA says it plans to sample ground and surface water for radium-226, radium-229, and gross alpha and beta radiation, as well as other substances. The full report is scheduled for a 2014 release.

Water used for fracking can be treated and used to frack more wells, and in rare cases treated and released into waterways according to officials.

“Secretary (Michael) Krancer’s call to industry secured, nearly overnight, a sea change in disposal practices,” Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman John Poister, told the Standard.

Poister was part of the department secretary’s 2011 request to the drilling industry to stop delivering wastewater to treatment plants that would treat the water and release it into public water sources.

“Wastewater from