Fracking Creates Massive Radioactive Waste Problem

Fracking Radiation?

The EPA openly acknowledges that fracking fluid contains "thousands of chemicals," but nowhere is there mention of radioactivity in its risk assessments. Now, a new study reveals the "natural gas" industry may be hiding a secret as dark and deadly as the one the nuclear industry has been trying to conceal for decades. 

With recent news that California's fracking industry will be "repurposing" its toxic wastewater to meet the needs of an agricultural industry driven desperate by the drought, a timely new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals fracking wastewater is not just a source of dangerous petrochemicals but also a highly toxic form of radioactive waste.

Titled, "What's NORMal for Fracking? Estimating Total Radioactivity of Produced Fluids," the new study tested the hypothesis that fracking wastewater contains the same naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) found in the shale deposits that it is produced from as a drilling byproduct. The primary radionuclides of interest include 226radium, 210polonium, and 210lead, which are decay products of 238uranium and 228thorium, and which are normally safely locked away deep within millions of years old geological formations.

The study focused on the heavily drilled Marcellus Shale, a vast swath of marine sedimentary rock found in eastern North America, and which is known to have about 20 times higher levels of radioactivity from high uranium content compared to most other shales.1  In 2010, the uranium deposits within the Marcellus Shale were identified by University of Buffalo researchers as being susceptible to being solubilized and made mobile by fracking fluids. The researchers determined that when these fluids inevitably come back to the surface in the form of millions of gallons of wastewater they can pollute streams and the ecosystem with hazardous waste.

Fracking Releases Radioactivity Normally Locked Away Deep Within The Earth

The new study confirms the above mentioned concerns. Researchers at the University of Iowa obtained a 200-liter drum of fracking wastewater obtained from the Marcellus Shale region in 2012. The sample was measured for existing levels of radioisotopes, and then estimates were made for the total radioactivity that would be produced within the fluids in the future if left within a closed space. They confirmed the presence of radioactive radium, polonium, and lead. They also measured an increase in the decay products 210lead and 228thorium.  Finally, they determined that the radioactivity would continue to increase for more than 100 years due to the formation of the decay products of 210lead and 210polonium.

This is not the first time that a radioactivity problem with fracking wastewater has been cited in the published literature. For instance, a report published in Environmental Science and Technology in 2013 found that fracking wastewater discharge by the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility in Pennsylvania lead to 226radium concentrations that were approximately 200 times higher than normally expected in stream sediments near the facility.2

Fracking's Radioactivity Could Be As Dangerous As Nuclear Power's Releases

Clearly, the "natural gas" industry has a new PR nightmare on its hands. Already there is a growing public awareness that fracking is an extremely destructive and non-sustainable method to extract energy from the earth, uses and contaminates billions of gallons of water annually, and may even contribute to increase seismic events like earthquakes. But until now few if any realized that the fracking/natural gas and the nuclear industry share the same dark secret that they both routinely release significant quantities of radioactive waste into the environment whose toxicological implications last for centuries, if not for thousands of years (e.g., 222radium's half-life is 1600 years). The releases are not just the byproduct of accidents. The nuclear power industry actually releases highly carcinogenic plumes of radioisotopes into the environment during the course of normal operations. For instance, they routinely schedule government approved releases of up to 500 times higher than normal levels when they refuel their reactors. Even the coal-powered power plants produce millions of tons of radioactive waste, which we recently touched upon in our exposé on the possible use of coal fly ash for covert geoengineering progams in the U.S. and abroad. In many ways, as evidenced by the Fukushima multi-core meltdown, the problem with radioactive waste contamination is so profound and widespread that for the most part the media won't even touch the issue. To the contrary, nuclear power is often described in the mainstream media as a "cleaner" form of energy because it does not produce the same carbon emissions as fossil fuel-based forms. This suffices to distract from its true harms to human and environmental health. 

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