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Drillers Face Radioactive Waste Disposal Challenges

FrackingOil and gas drillers in Pennsylvania are finding it increasingly difficult to find disposal sites for their radioactive waste, according to Power Source.

In the first half of this year, 421 trucks carrying oil and gas waste tripped radiation alarms at Pennsylvania landfills, and last year 1,015 loads set off the alarms, up slightly from 2012, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Most companies scan their drilling waste, so highly radioactive waste usually doesn’t appear at local landfills.

The DEP gives landfills an annual limit on how much radioactive waste they can accept. If a load comes in with a reading below 140 microrems per hour, the landfill can choose to accept it. The load will then be subtracted from the landfill’s annual limit, based on a formula that takes into account the amount of the waste and exact dose rate.

Oil and gas discards fall into the category of residual waste, a type of waste that has been growing in Pennsylvania. In 2010, the amount of residual waste tonnage accepted at Pennsylvania landfills shot up, and the average weight of waste since then has been more than a third higher than in the previous four years.

The majority of the loads tripping alarms are actually liquids that have been solidified into a sludge. Last year this comprised more than three-quarters of radioactive loads.

While fracking companies in some parts of the US have been increasing their use of freshwater, in general, fracking firms in Pennsylvania are recycling more water and drawing less freshwater, according to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Several years ago drillers told treatment plants to remove as many metals as possible from their flowback to reuse it. However, many operators are now finding it’s as effective to frack with metal-laden water, which may mean less radioactive sludge going to landfills in the future.

A DEP study of radioactive material in oil and gas waste and its potential impacts on humans and the environment is scheduled to be released before the end of the year.

Photo Credit: Drilling via Shutterstock

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