Jim Willis on NGL Pipelines
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
PA DEP announces it will test all landfills for radioactive leachate, making a point to include those “that accept unconventional oil and gas waste.”
Yesterday PA Gov. Tom Wolf grabbed some headlines by having his Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) announce they will “soon” begin to require *all* landfills in the state to test leachate (water with nasty stuff in it that comes from landfills) for radioactivity. The Wolf DEP press release takes great pains to point out the new testing includes landfills “that accept unconventional oil and gas waste.” Which is the purpose of the announcement. To plant the seed that maybe, just maybe, drill cuttings are causing folks to glow in the dark. Radiation poisoning.
Yet buried in the press release is this statement about a previous study of leachate from PA landfills with and without drill cuttings…
“The study did not identify significant differences in radium levels between landfills that accept oil and gas waste compared to those that do not. Testing results in all cases were lower than effluent limits for radium-226 and radium-228 established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for facilities under its jurisdiction.”
So even though there’s no proof of any problems, the state will now require quarterly testing for radioactivity from landfills anyway. Fine. Whatever floats the DEP’s boat. If they want extra testing each quarter, let them have it. We (as an industry) have nothing to hide. We want to know if there are issues so we can address them.
Here’s the DEP announcement from yesterday:
In an effort to further protect Pennsylvania’s waterways and drinking water, the Wolf Administration announced today that it will soon require all Pennsylvania landfills – including those that accept unconventional oil and gas waste – to conduct quarterly testing of leachate for radiological contaminants.
Landfills are currently required to test leachate – or liquid generated during waste decomposition – for various contaminants before this liquid is either treated by an on-site leachate treatment facility or sent to wastewater treatment facilities. This additional step of including radium in the list of contaminants to be measured will allow the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to evaluate the presence of radium in landfills.
“We take seriously our responsibility and duty as an environmental steward,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “This additional requirement will improve public confidence that public drinking water and our precious natural resources are being appropriately protected.”
“This level of prevention ensures Pennsylvania residents and visitors are protected from potential health and environmental risks, our top priority,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
DEP currently identifies contaminants in leachate through reports sent from landfills on a quarterly basis. DEP has begun the process of updating its reporting document to include radium-226 and radium-228, which will be implemented later this year. All landfills, including those that accept oil and gas wastes, will be required to test for these radiological contaminants.
“Earlier this year, my office urged Governor Wolf to direct DEP to prevent harmful radioactive materials from entering Pennsylvania waterways, and I commend this action,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Pennsylvanians living next to landfills and in the shadow of fracking wells have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and the improved monitoring and promised analysis by DEP is a step in the right direction.”
DEP has conducted several investigations into potential radiological contamination associated with unconventional oil and gas waste, including a large-scale investigatory study of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) in 2016, as well as testing of leachate from the Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill (WSL). In both cases, DEP or DEP-certified laboratories have analyzed leachate collected for radium-226 and radium-228, which are naturally occurring radiological substances found deep underground. Specifically, samples taken of WSL’s leachate showed radium levels far below federal action levels.
The study did not identify significant differences in radium levels between landfills that accept oil and gas waste compared to those that do not. Testing results in all cases were lower than effluent limits for radium-226 and radium-228 established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for facilities under its jurisdiction.
However, the study also concluded that additional evaluation of the potential for oil and gas-derived waste to radiologically impact landfill leachate was necessary.
Since the study was published, DEP has taken steps to address radiation concerns, including requiring Radiation Protection Action Plans for unconventional oil and gas operations that generate TENORM and updating limitations, as well as applying enhanced tracking efforts for the landfill disposal of TENORM-containing waste. Testing for radium in landfill leachate is another step in DEP’s ongoing efforts to appropriately ensure public confidence and protect public health.
DEP will also implement longer-range steps based on the data reported by landfills, including collecting and analyzing two years of quarterly data so that fluctuations in oil and gas waste disposal volume are adequately captured and take any immediate action that is necessary to protect human health or the environment if it finds that federal action levels are exceeded.
Here’s how the left, via PBS StateImpact Pennsylvania, reports the DEP testing news:
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it will now require all landfills that take solid fracking waste to test their leachate, or liquid waste, for radioactive materials common in oil and gas waste.
Landfills often send leachate, a liquid waste formed from rainwater that seeps through piles of waste, to treatment plants.
They test it for dozens of potential pollutants. But they’ve never had to test it for radium, a radioactive material common in oil and gas waste.
“We take seriously our responsibility and duty as an environmental steward,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. “This additional requirement will improve public confidence that public drinking water and our precious natural resources are being appropriately protected.”
The issue of radioactivity in landfill leachate garnered public attention in 2019. At the time, a Fayette County waste treatment plant sued to have a nearby landfill stop sending it leachate after the treatment plant found high amounts of oil and gas contaminants in the liquid waste.
The DEP said in the tests it ran on the leachate at that landfill and others, radium levels were below federal action levels. The tests “did not identify significant differences in radium levels between landfills that accept oil and gas waste compared to those that do not,” the DEP said in a statement Monday. “Testing results in all cases were lower than effluent limits for (radium) established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for facilities under its jurisdiction.”
But environmental groups and some scientists have worried the liquid waste could expose drinking water supplies to contamination. According to the EPA, “chronic exposure to high levels of radium can result in an increased incidence of bone, liver or breast cancer.”
In 2020, state records show oil and gas drillers sent 244,000 tons of drill cuttings to landfills.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who issued a grand jury report last year slamming the DEP for failing to protect the public from the health effects of fracking, hailed the decision.
“Pennsylvanians living next to landfills and in the shadow of fracking wells have a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, and the improved monitoring and promised analysis by DEP is a step in the right direction,” Shapiro said.
Amy Mall, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which recently released a report calling for more regulation of radioactive waste from the fracking industry, also praised the decision. But in an email she also called on the state to do more “to protect workers and nearby residents from radioactive waste generated by oil and gas production.”
Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, said the decision will “provide important information to the public,” but said that since some of the landfills that accept the waste are publicly-owned, the cost of testing falls to the public. “It is imperative that the oil and gas industry bear the cost of ensuring clean waterways,” she said.
Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Callahan said in a statement said the state’s regulations governing radioactive materials in oil and gas waste was “modern and effective” and did not “pose a risk to workers or the public.” Callahan added that natural gas companies and their contractors “conduct comprehensive (radiation) management plans, surveys, and reporting to state agencies” which include sampling for radioactivity in solid waste “leaving (a) wellsite and before entering a permitted landfill facility.”
A 2016 Pennsylvania DEP study found “little or limited potential for radiation exposure to workers or the public.” But in announcing the new radium monitoring requirement, the agency said that the 2016 study concluded that “additional evaluation of the potential for oil and gas-derived waste to radiologically impact landfill leachate was necessary.”
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