Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

January 19, 2018 by Tim Lucas, Duke University
Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a stream in western Pennsylvania. A new Duke study finds stream sediments at disposal sites such as this one have levels of radioactivity that are 650 times higher than at unaffected upstream sites. Credit: Avner Vengosh, Duke University

More than seven years after Pennsylvania officials requested that the disposal of radium-laden fracking wastewater into surface waters be restricted, a new Duke University study finds that high levels of radioactivity persist in stream sediments at three disposal sites.

The contamination is coming from the disposal of conventional, or non-fracked, oil and gas wastewater, which, under current state regulations, can still be treated and discharged to local streams.

"It's not only fracking fluids that pose a risk; produced water from conventional, or non-fracked, oil and gas wells also contains high levels of radium, which is a radioactive element. Disposal of this wastewater causes an accumulation of radium on the stream sediments that decays over time and converts into other radioactive elements," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The level of radiation found in stream sediments at the disposal sites was about 650 times higher than radiation in upstream sediments. In some cases, it even exceeded the radioactivity level that requires disposal only at federally designated radioactive waste disposal sites.

"Our analysis confirms that this accumulation of radioactivity is derived from the disposal of conventional oil and gas wastewater after 2011, when authorities limited the disposal of unconventional oil and gas wastewater," said Nancy Lauer, a Nicholas School PhD student who led the study.

"The radionuclide ratios we measured in the sediments and the rates of decay and growth of radioactive elements in the impacted sediments allowed us to essentially age-date the contamination to after 2011," she explained.

The researchers published their findings in a peer-reviewed policy paper Jan. 4 in Environmental Science and Technology.

To conduct the study, they collected stream sediments from three wastewater disposal sites in western Pennsylvania, as well as three upstream sites, and analyzed the in the sediments. Samples were collected annually from 2014 to 2017 at disposal sites on Blacklick Creek in Josephine, on the Allegheny River in Franklin, and on McKee Run in Creekside.

In 2011, in response to growing public concern about the possible environmental and human health effects of fracking wastewater, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection requested that the discharge of fracking fluids and other unconventional oil and gas wastewater into surface waters be prohibited from central water-treatment facilities that release high salinity effluents. However, the disposal of treated wastewater from conventional oil and gas operations was allowed to continue.

"Despite the fact that and gas is treated to reduce its radium content, we still found high levels of radioactive build-up in the stream sediments we sampled," Vengosh said. "Radium is attached to these sediments, and over time even a small amount of radium being discharged into a stream accumulates to generate high radioactivity in the stream sediments."

"While restricting the disposal of fracking fluids to the environment was important, it's not enough," he said. "Conventional oil and gas wastewaters also contain radioactivity, and their disposal to the environment must be stopped, too."

Explore further: Radioactive shale gas contaminants found at wastewater discharge site

More information: Nancy E. Lauer et al, Sources of Radium Accumulation in Stream Sediments near Disposal Sites in Pennsylvania: Implications for Disposal of Conventional Oil and Gas Wastewater, Environmental Science & Technology (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b04952

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ab3a
1.3 / 5 (8) Jan 19, 2018
From the article "'...we still found high levels of radioactive build-up in the stream sediments we sampled.' Vengosh said."

What does the term "high" mean? High compared to what?
rrwillsj
4.6 / 5 (12) Jan 19, 2018
'High' compared to the average 'normal' level of radioactivity found in water systems not befouled with fracking wastes.

Didn't the Wall Street Casino con-artists promise that fracking was a harmless, inexpensive method of producing petroleum pollutants?
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (11) Jan 19, 2018
From the article "'...we still found high levels of radioactive build-up in the stream sediments we sampled.' Vengosh said."

What does the term "high" mean? High compared to what?


Read the caption, it gives a specific example.
Turgent
1 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2018
"High" agree it is relative.

PA has by far had and still has the worst regulations for fracking and the oil and gas industry in the nation. There are 100,000 uncapped wells in PA that can longer be found. The Marcellus has a higher radiation level than other shales however, it like 3 versus 7 when high is 100. Interesting it is a problem in light of the fact that radium is water soluble and 228 has a half-life of 5.75 years. Be happy don't worry.
Turgent
1 / 5 (7) Jan 19, 2018
Radon is removed from gas before it released. When used in a home rangetop radiation levels equals background level.

Radon half-life = 3.8 days

The K40 radiation in a banana is the most radioactive in item in the home environment.
Turgent
1 / 5 (5) Jan 19, 2018
If you live in an area of granitic soils your house has to be checked an free of radon in order to sell it.
ab3a
1 / 5 (6) Jan 19, 2018
Most scientists use the logarithmic Becquerel scale to describe radiation. These people used a linear comparison to some hand waving exercise. The actual amount of radiation may not be any worse than you'd get from living in Denver, but we can't be certain because we don't have what they consider to be their background reference.

Turgent
1 / 5 (5) Jan 19, 2018
Radon is continuously formed from radium dissolved in wastewater.


True. The gas is also water soluble and stays in solution, unless boiled off.

U and Th are also dissolved in the water.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (5) Jan 20, 2018
Radium is still worth about $100,000/gram. Why not extract it?
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Jan 20, 2018
Radon is removed from gas before it released. When used in a home rangetop radiation levels equals background level.

Radon half-life = 3.8 days

The K40 radiation in a banana is the most radioactive in item in the home environment.

Don't know the truth of that, but -
It was just funny...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2018
"uranium in drinking water are extremely variable, apparently ranging from 0.02 to 200 µg/liter in fresh waters."

"radium-226... probably have the greatest potential for producing radiation doses of some consequence to man. The radium-226 content of fresh surface water is variable, ranging from 0.01 to about 0.1 pCi/liter. Some groundwater may contain up to 100 pCi/liter.

"Midwest of the United States there is an area where groundwaters contain significant levels... The weighted mean concentration of radium-226 has been estimated to be approximately 5 pCi/liter... in the entire United States approximately 1.1 million people consume water that contains more than 3 pCi/liter of radium-226."

"Radon-222... Some mineral or spa waters, however, may contain 500,000 pCi/liter.

"consumption of 2 liters per day of water containing 1 nCi/liter of radon-222 would deliver an annual stomach dose of about 12 mrad."

Etcetc
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 20, 2018
The K40 radiation in a banana
Sober up wg this is serious busyness

"Bananas contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes, particularly potassium-40 (40K). One BED [banana equivalent dose] is often correlated to 2.3 µSv..."

"chest CT scan delivers 70,000 BED (7 mSv). A lethal dose of radiation is approximately 35,000,000 BED..."

-Which may be equivalent to approx 1 Chapin
https://youtu.be/OGldNpngDws
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (3) Jan 20, 2018
Actually, 1 banana = .4 pounds so it's like, a lot more chapins.

In the interests of scientific accuracy.
https://youtu.be/XeZJ6WSVVAk
HeloMenelo
5 / 5 (6) Jan 20, 2018
Bad news for Antisciencegorilla (aka sockpuppet Turdgent) then eh...
Turgent
1 / 5 (6) Jan 20, 2018
What shouldn't be lost in the fanatic hand waving is the amounts of uranium, radium, and radon dumped into our environment in the name of renewable corn ethanol. The potash and phosphorus required for the fertilizers contains significant amounts of uranium, which decays to ->radium->radon. Its good that none of these accumulates in the human body. If it did we would reach critical mass in 13.7 years. This assumes all 238 is excreted.
RealScienceMatter
5 / 5 (7) Jan 20, 2018
Bad news for Antisciencegorilla (aka sockpuppet Turdgent) then eh...

LOL
Turgent
1 / 5 (8) Jan 20, 2018
Helomental muss seine Fähigkeit, aussteigen, wenn Sie Beleidigungen zu verlieren. Traurig und erbärmlich.
RealScienceMatter
5 / 5 (6) Jan 20, 2018
I actually never ever seen him lose an insult here, and with the monkey business you're in, i expect more self inflicted insults by yourself towards yourself lol....
Turgent
1 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2018
Radon is removed from gas before it released. When used in a home rangetop radiation levels equals background level.

Radon half-life = 3.8 days

The K40 radiation in a banana is the most radioactive in item in the home environment.

Don't know the truth of that, but -
It was just funny...


For whatever it is worth the initial amount of radon it is reduced to .03 after 30 days of storage.
Turgent
1 / 5 (2) Jan 20, 2018
Things get weirder as this gets thought through.

1. Used fracking water has high salt(s) content.

2. Radium is alkaline earth metal which forms strong ionic bonds thus forming a salt.
Particularly in a high salt, NACl, solution, which is the water at that level.

3. Salts are highly water soluble.

4. It would take a lot of energy to break the ionic bonds of a radium salt so as to precipitate metallic radium or any non-ionic compound.

Go figure?
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 20, 2018
Helomental muss seine Fähigkeit, aussteigen, wenn Sie Beleidigungen zu verlieren. Traurig und erbärmlich
ach du Liebe
https://youtu.be/LGauZm2pOSQ
RealScienceMatter
not rated yet Jan 21, 2018
Turgent
1 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2018
"Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and causes thousands [.0003%] of cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA." This is as it applies to radon in homes. An extension of this would say all miners would die of lung cancer.

Not far from here is N. America's largest salt mine. It is on top of the Marcellus shale. It has been mined for 100 years. It has mined 13,000 acres of the salt bed. Never has there been mention of radon or lung cancer.

Go figure: Source EPA
Thorium Boy
not rated yet Jan 22, 2018
People ignorant about radiation are good for a laugh. When Fukushima melted down, nitwits in California were paying $200 on Ebay for old Victoreen ion-chamber rate meters worth $25.00. Useless. Cranks were "surveying" imported Japanese cars for radiation.

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