Officials call for water testing after report details radioactive shale waste

Source: Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), March 2, 1011
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U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined a chorus of lawmakers on Tuesday seeking additional testing of public water supplies following a report that the wastewater produced from Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania contains higher levels of radioactive materials than was previously disclosed.
An article published Sunday in The New York Times detailed a lack of testing for those radioactive constituents at 65 public water intakes downstream from treatment plants that have discharged Marcellus Shale wastewater into rivers.
State regulators have limited how much drilling wastewater publicly-owned sewer plants can discharge since 2008, and further discharge restrictions were adopted by the state last August.
“Alarming information has been raised that must be fully investigated,” Mr. Casey said and asked both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to “increase inspections of Pennsylvania drinking water resources for radioactive material and to account for why sufficient inspections haven’t taken place.”
Several other federal lawmakers have asked for similar increases in oversight since the publication of the article. On Sunday, former DEP Secretary John Hanger wrote on his blog that DEP “should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants” and report the results to the public.
In that post and at least six subsequent posts, Mr. Hanger also criticized The New York Times for not detailing the stricter regulations, increased staff and more frequent well-site inspections that have been adopted by the state in the past three years as it strengthened its enforcement of Marcellus Shale drilling.
DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said the department is still evaluating how to respond to the calls for further testing.
“We’re certainly taking into consideration these recommendations,” she said.
Acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer will face questions at a confirmation hearing today before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee during which Marcellus Shale issues will surely be a primary topic.
Mr. Casey’s comments came as The New York Times published a second article in the series on its website on Tuesday afternoon that raised questions about the toxic constituents that remain in liquid or solid form after the Marcellus Shale wastewater is treated and recycled. That article appears on this news page.
The article also details one occasion when more than 155,000 gallons of wastewater containing high levels of radium from an Ultra Resources well in Tioga County were sent to nine towns in Tioga, Bradford and Lycoming counties to spread on roads for dust suppression.
Pennsylvania regulations allow “only production or treated brines” from gas wells to be spread on roads for dust control or de-icing, according to a DEP fact sheet posted on its website. “The use of drilling, fracing or plugging fluids or production brines mixed with well servicing or treatment fluids, except surfactants, is prohibited.”
Marcellus Shale brine is wastewater that gradually returns to the surface over the decades-long life of a well after a larger initial flush of fluids that had been injected underground returns to the surface in the first 30 days.
Waste reports submitted to the state by Marcellus Shale operators for the 18 months between July 2009 and December 2010 show road spreading of brine from shale drilling has occurred on at least two more occasions.
Atlas Resources, now owned by Chevron, sent 18,900 gallons of brine from a well in Clarion County to be spread on roads in three towns in Crawford County, according to the DEP database. EQT Production Company sent more than 6,000 gallons of brine to Warren County for road spreading.

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