Presentation on theme: "David O. Carpenter, MD Institute for Health and the Environment University at Albany."— Presentation transcript:
David O. Carpenter, MD Institute for Health and the Environment University at Albany
We are all Exposed to Radiation Radioactive elements are a part of the make-up of the earth, and they are present at low levels in the water, food and air. Sunlight contains ionizing radiation, and life on earth would not be possible without sunlight. Many medical procedures that save lives use radiation to diagnose diseases.
Why Should We Be Concerned? Radioactivity is a proven human carcinogen. Radioactivity causes damage to DNA resulting in birth defects. In both animals and people, exposure to radioactivity shortens life span. Radioactivity produces free radicals, otherwise known as reactive oxygen species, and these are thought to be the cause of most cellular damage.
Radium 226 and 228 Radioactive elements like uranium, thorium and radium occur naturally in rock, but are at higher concentrations some places than others. These radionucleotides are called Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM). Radium is water soluble, and can be found at high concentration in fracking fluids. Thorium and uranium are less water soluble but can come to the surface in drilling waste and as particulates during fracking. These elements behave similarly to calcium, and bioaccumulate in human bones and teeth. They can lead to bone and other cancers like leukemia. Ra-226 has a half life of 1,600 years, while Ra-228 has a half life of 5.74 years. Ra-226 and Ra-228 are the parents of radon gas, with a half-life of 3.8 days.
Fracking Wells There are many vertical wells already in New York. These are typically 1500-3000 feet deep. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing wells frequently go down to 6000 feet. From 1 to 5 million gallons of water are required per well for the initial fracturing, and up to 12 million gallons over the lifetime of the well. Between 10 and 40% of the water returns to the surface, containing salts, chemicals and radioactivity.
Radioactivity in Fracking Fluid Previous studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between salinity (TDS) and total radium activity in various shales (Fisher, 2001). Salinity in the Marcellus Shale frequently is greater than 100,000 mg/L. Produced water samples from the Marcellus Shale are enriched in radium to a statistically significant degree (p<0.05) relative to samples from other basins (USGS, 2011). Total radium activities in New York have a higher median value (5,490 pCi/L) than reported for Pennsylvania (1,727 pCi/L). Uranium and thorium, unlike radium, are not very soluble, and will be found primarily bound to particulates.
Radioactivity in Fracking Water In 2011 the NY Times reported that of more than 200 gas wells in Pennsylvania, more than 170 were producing wastewater with high levels of radioactivity, with levels more than 100 times the federal drinking-water standard in 116, and more than 1,000 times higher in 15. Some fracking brine has been found to be 300 times more radioactive than the NRC limit for industrial discharge to water. Under federal law radioactivity is tested only in drinking water, but in Pennsylvania that is required only once every six or nine years.
What is Being Done With Radioactive Fracking Fluids? In Pennsylvania it is being spread onto roadways to reduce ice, since it contains high concentrations of salts. In most cases the level of radioactivity is not even being determined!! The radioactivity will wash off the roadway into waterways and be partially retained by soils. Once into the upper crust of the earth it will stay there for generations!
Dangers to Humans from Wastewater Discharges Some sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania accepted franking fluid with 2,122 times the radioactivity allowed in the drinking water standard. But they are not even required to test it! Even if the radioactivity does not get into drinking water, if discharged it can get into fish that people eat.
Radon as a Contaminant Radon is a gas, and a product of decay of Ra-226. It has a half-life of 3.8 days. Radon levels in Pennsylvania gas samples ranged from 1-79 pCi/L (median 32 pCi/L), which is 8x higher than the EPA standard for indoor air. M. Resnikoff calculated that radon leaking from Marcellus Shale gas pipelines and being released by natural gas burned in homes in New York may result in between 1183 and 30,484 new cancer cases. One solution would be to store the natural gas for a period before sending it down the pipe.
Regulations Neither EPA nor NRC regulate radioactivity coming from the oil and gas industries. The only federal regulations is by DOT which governs transport of radioactive materials. Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials are exempt under the Resource, Compensation and Recovery Act, which results in their not being listed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. EPA does regulate radioactivity in drinking water, but does not regulate radionuclide emissions generated by the oil and gas industries.
Conclusions Radioactive materials in fracking fluids pose a major public health problem that is not being addressed by federal or state agencies. It is imperative that monitoring of fracking fluid for radioactivity be done systematically. Disposal of highly radioactive fracking fluid poses a very difficult problem, but until we have regulations and safety procedures in place it is the height of foolishness to proceed with fracking in New York State.