Millions of barrels of wastewater trucked into Ohio from shale-gas wells in Pennsylvania might be highly radioactive, according to a government study.
Radium in one sample of Marcellus shale wastewater, also called brine, that Pennsylvania officials collected in 2009 was 3,609 times more radioactive than a federal safety limit for drinking water. It was 300 times higher than a Nuclear Regulatory Commission limit for industrial discharges to water.
The December 2011 study, compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, also found that the median levels of radium in brine from Marcellus shale wells was more than three times higher than brine collected from conventional oil and gas wells.
“These are very, very high concentrations of radium compared to other oil and gas brines,” said Mark Engle, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist and co-author of the report.
State law bans radioactive shale-well sand and sludge from Ohio landfills. However, brine can be sent down any of Ohio’s 171 active disposal wells regardless of how much radium it contains. Michael Snee, the Ohio Department of Health’s radiation-protection chief, said that’s the safest place for brine.“Injection wells are almost the perfect solution for that disposal issue,” Snee said.