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Pa. DEP to study radioactivity in oil and gas equipment, waste

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Radioactivity on oil and gas industry equipment and in industry waste will be the subject of a study by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the agency announced Jan. 24.

The study recognizes concerns that have been raised about Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or NORM.

Oil and gas extraction long has been known to sometimes deposit NORM on equipment and in wastes, generally at very low levels and generally unregulated and unmanaged. Parts of the Marcellus Shale have been found to result in higher levels of NORM than oil and gas activity in other areas.

PADEP said it routinely reviews radioactivity data in wastes the oil and gas industry and other industries generate and has found only very low levels.

In the new study, the agency will collect samples of flowback fluid, rock cuttings, treatment solids and sediments at well pads, wastewater treatment and waste disposal facilities. It also will analyze the radioactivity levels in pipes and well casings, storage tanks, treatment systems and trucks.

"This administration is undertaking what will be the most comprehensive study of its kind anywhere, and Gov. Corbett has directed us to do so in order to be proactive for the future and to continue Pennsylvania's leadership in responsible development of domestic natural gas resources," DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said.

Drill cuttings and other materials associated with oil and gas occasionally have triggered radiation monitors at landfills, the agency said. Data indicate that less than half a percent of all drill cuttings produced by the Marcellus Shale industry in 2012 that were disposed of in landfills triggered radiation monitors. The cuttings did not contain levels of radioactivity that would be harmful to the public, the agency said, and they were safely disposed of in the landfills.

In 2011, DEP announced the results of in-stream radiation water quality monitoring for seven rivers in Pennsylvania. The monitors were placed downstream of treatment plants that had been discharging treated Marcellus Shale wastewater, a now defunct practice as a direct result of DEP's call to industry to cease delivery of wastewater to plants that were not equipped to fully treat it. The in-stream monitoring results showed that radioactivity levels in all seven rivers were at or below normal background levels and below federal safe drinking water standards.

DEP will work on the study with Perma-Fix Environmental Services of Pittsburgh.

The agency will consult with independent members of academia to peer review the project's detailed study plan. Once the peer review is complete, DEP will publish the study plan on its website, where the agency's proposal for the study is currently viewable.

The study is expected to take 12 to 14 months.

For information and to view the study proposal and a summary of the study, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click the "Oil and Gas Development Radiation Study" button on the front page.