Fracking wastewater can be highly radioactive
Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 7:13 pm
Its contents remain mostly a mystery. But fracking wastewater has revealed one of its secrets: It can be highly radioactive. And yet no agency really regulates its handling, transport or disposal. First of a four-part series on radiation in fracking wastewater.
PORTAGE, Pa. -- Randy Moyer hasn’t been able to work in 14 months.
He’s seen more than 40 doctors, has 10 prescriptions to his name and no less than eight inhalers stationed around his apartment.
Moyer said he began transporting brine, the wastewater from gas wells that have been hydraulically fractured, for a small hauling company in August 2011. He trucked brine from wells to treatment plants and back to wells, and sometimes cleaned out the storage tanks used to hold wastewater on drilling sites. By November 2011, the 49-year-old trucker was too ill to work. He suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, difficulty breathing, swollen lips and appendages, and a fiery red rash that covered about 50 percent of his body.
“They called it a rash,” he said of the doctors who treated him during his 11 trips to the emergency room. “A rash doesn’t set you on fire.”
Moyer spent most of last year in his Portage apartment, lying on the floor by the open screen door because his skin burned so badly, while doctors scrambled to reach a diagnosis. He says the only thing that has helped ease his symptoms is a homeopathic tea recommended by others in the community who have similar symptoms.
Today, he has a box brimming with doctors’ bills but still no diagnosis. Moyer believes he’s sick from the chemicals in fracking fluid and the ensuing wastewater -- and from radiation exposure.
And he may be right.
Studies from the U.S. Geological Survey, Penn State University and environmental groups all found that waste from fracking can be radioactive -- and in some cases, highly radioactive.
A geological survey report found that millions of barrels of wastewater from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and conventional wells in New York were 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.
And Mark Engle, the USGS research geologist who co-authored the report, said that fracking plowback from the Marcellus shale contains higher radiation levels than similar shale formations.