RADIOACTIVITY IN SHALE
NORM & TENORM
Radioactivity is a very important topic, on
multiple levels, when
considering all the environmental impacts of fracking for oil and natural gas. While most media attention is
focused on the chemicals going downhole in the fracking process, it is just as
important to realize that 'Mother Nature' sends her own group of
toxics back out of these Marcellus Shale wells in the flowback right
the produced water over time.
|Two of these toxics are water
soluble Radium 226 (Ra226) and Radium 228 (Ra228). An investigation by the New York Times in
2010 was very effective in demonstrating the presence of radioactivity
in these fluids from Marcellus Shale wells.
As an example of one fracked Marcellus well they researched, well #6H in
Cross Creek County Park, Washington County, Pennsylvania, had alarming levels of Ra 226,
Ra 228 along with Uranium 238 in the flowback liquids.
New York Times article
February 26, 2011
We learn from this New York Times
article that radiation levels in the wastewater from Cross Creek
Park 6H OG Well were off the chart! Some of the locations for
dumping that brine (wastewater) were listed, but the largest amount
of brine was disposed of at a location NOT LISTED.
Below is part of
a table from a DEP Production Report.
quantity of this highly radioactive brine
went to an
CROSS CREEK COUNTY PARK
ADVANCED WASTE - NEW CASTLE
CROSS CREEK COUNTY PARK
PA BRINE TRT - FRANKLIN
CROSS CREEK COUNTY PARK
TUNNELTON LIQUIDS COMPANY
CROSS CREEK COUNTY PARK
USGS - Published September 7,
PDF - 1.08MB
Radium Content of Oil- and Gas-Field Produced
Waters in the Northern Appalachian Basin (USA)
Excerpts below: Cross Creek 6H is
Well/Sample ID 11.1 and 11.2
Flowback & Produced
from Cross Creek County Park 6H
PA DEP Permit #125-22830
Date of Samples: 4-9-2009 & 6-29-2009
Radium 226 in Brine (pCi/L) 951
Radium 226 in Brine (pCi/L) 1,280
in Brine (pCi/L) 703
in Brine (pCi/L) 1,110
Total Radium in Brine (pCi/L) 1,654
Total Radium in Brine (pCi/L) 2,390
TDS (mg/L) 157,000
TDS (mg/L) 200,000
Uranium 238 in Brine (pCi/L) 90
Benzene 880 ppb
(For comparison's sake, the Federal
drinking water limit is 5 pC/iL)
EPA webpage on Radium
Radium forms when isotopes of uranium or thorium decay
in the environment. Most radium (radium-226) originates
from the decay of the plentiful uranium-238. Radium is a
naturally radioactive, silvery-white metal when freshly
cut. It blackens on exposure to air.
The various isotopes of radium originate
from the radioactive decay of uranium or thorium.
Radium-226 is found in the uranium-238 decay series, and
radium-228 and -224 are found in the thorium-232 decay
Radium-226, the most common isotope, is an alpha
emitter, with accompanying gamma radiation, and has a
half-life of about 1600 years. Radium-228, is
principally a beta emitter and has a half-life of 5.76
years. Radium-224, an alpha emitter, has a half life of
3.66 days. Radium decays to form isotopes of the
radioactive gas radon.
Study says Pennsylvania drilling
water high in radium
September 4, 2012 - The Marcellus shale
absorbs uranium from ancient saltwater trapped within
the rock layer. The decaying uranium then leaks radium
into the water. As the wells continue to produce oil and
gas, Engle said the brine becomes saltier and more
For its study, the Geological Survey
examined 52 samples of Marcellus shale brine collected
from wells in New York and Pennsylvania from 2009
through 2011. In 37 of the samples, radioactivity from
radium-226 and radium-228 was at least 242 times higher
than the drinking-water standard and at least 20 times
higher than the industrial standard. That included a
sample collected Dec. 21, 2009, in Tioga County, Pa.,
that was 3,609 times higher than the drinking water
standard and 300 times higher than the industrial.
Where was this liquid waste (*brine*)
Someone's glass of water?
Pennsylvania DEP reports indicate that the fate of the majority of
that radioactive wastewater (168,336 gallons) is unknown, most of the wastewater at
that time was being taken to sewage treatment plants, diluted with
processed sewage, and dumped into the rivers around Pittsburgh; the drinking water source for
hundreds of thousands of local residents.
Who says that fracking has never contaminated
water? Indeed, it has contaminated drinking water for hundreds of
thousands, if not millions of people living near shale drilling.
This page will provide further evidence linked to the radioactivity,
and solubility, of that threat to the safety, health and welfare of
those living close to, or downstream from shale fracking.
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) provides this summary on
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)
NORM in the Oil and Gas
NORM encountered in oil and gas
exploration, development and production operations originates in
subsurface formations, which may contain radioactive materials such
as uranium and thorium and their daughter products, radium 226 and
radium 228. NORM can be brought to the surface in the
formation water that is produced in conjunction with oil and gas.
NORM in these produced waters typically consists of the
radionuclides, radium 226 and 228. In addition, radon gas, a radium
daughter, may be found in produced natural gas.
Because the levels are typically
so low, NORM in produced waters and natural gas is not a problem in
Texas unless it becomes concentrated in some manner. Through
temperature and pressure changes that occur in the course of oil and
gas production operations, radium 226 and 228 found in produced
waters may co-precipitate with barium sulfate scale in well tubulars
and surface equipment. Concentrations of radium 226 and 228 may also
occur in sludge that accumulates in oilfield pits and tanks. These
solids become sources of oil and gas NORM waste.
In gas processing activities,
NORM generally occurs as radon gas in the natural gas stream. Radon
decays to Lead-210, then to Bismuth-210, Polonium-210, and finally
to stable Lead-206. Radon decay elements occur as a film
on the inner surface of inlet lines, treating units, pumps, and
valves principally associated with propylene, ethane, and propane
Workers employed in the area of
cutting and reaming oilfield pipe, removing solids from tanks and
pits, and refurbishing gas processing equipment may be exposed to
particles containing levels of alpha-emitting radionuclides that
could pose health risks if inhaled or ingested.
NORM AND TENORM
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The geologic formations that
contain oil and gas deposits also contain naturally-occurring
radionuclides, which are referred to as "NORM" (Naturally-Occurring
Radioactive Materials). Geologists have recognized their
presence since the early 1930s and use it as a method for finding
Much of the petroleum in the
earth's crust was created at the site of ancients seas by the decay
of sea life. As a result, petroleum deposits often occur in aquifers
containing brine (salt water). Radionuclides, along with other
minerals that are dissolved in the brine, precipitate (separate and
settle) out forming various wastes at the surface.
Because the extraction process
concentrates the naturally occurring radionuclides and exposes them
to the surface environment and human contact, these wastes are
classified as TENORM.
TENORM contamination levels in
equipment varied widely among types of equipment and geographic
region. The geographic areas with the highest equipment readings
were northern Texas and the gulf coast crescent from southern
Louisiana and Mississippi to the Florida panhandle. Very low levels
of TENORM were found in California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and
According to an API
industry-wide survey, approximately 64 percent of the gas producing
equipment and 57 percent of the oil production equipment showed
radioactivity at or near background levels. TENORM
radioactivity levels tend to be highest in water handling equipment.
Average exposure levels for this equipment were between 30 to 40
micro Roentgens per hour (μR/hr), which is about 5 times background.
Gas processing equipment with the highest levels include
the reflux pumps, propane pumps and tanks, other pumps, and product
lines. Average radiation levels for this equipment as
between 30 to 70 μR/hr. Exposures from some oil production and gas
processing equipment exceeded 1 mR/hr.
Gas plant processing equipment
is generally contaminated on the surface by lead-210 (Pb-210).
However, TENORM may also accumulate in gas plant
equipment from radon (Rn-222) gas decay. Radon gas is highly mobile.
It originates in underground formations and dissolves in the organic
of the gas plant. It concentrates mainly
in the more volatile propane and ethane fractions of the gas.
Gas plant scales differ from oil
production scales, typically consisting of radon decay products
which accumulate on the interior surfaces of plant equipment. Radon
itself decays quickly, (its half-life is 3.8 days). As a result, the
only radionuclides that affect disposal are the radon decay products
polonium-210 (Po-210) and lead-210. Polonium-210 is an alpha emitter
with a half-life of 140 days. Pb-210 is a weak beta and gamma
emitter with a half-life of 22 years.
Q: What other ways can radiation leave the gas patch?
A: In the propane you burn.
Potential for elevated Radiation
levels in Propane
Source: National Energy Board of Canada
In November of 1992 the National
Energy Board received an incident report from Petroleum Transmission
Company Ltd. with respect to elevated, but not unsafe, levels of
radiation detected in propane. The origin of this radiation was
determined to be natural occurring radioactive materials ("NORM")
which occur as a result of radon, a radioactive gas, selectively
dissolving in the propane fraction of natural gas liquids. Upon
radioactive decay, radon gas is converted into radon progeny
These particulates can
accumulate along internal surfaces of tubulars, filters and other
equipment surfaces such as those found within extraction facilities
or along the propane transmission pipelines. The particular
radioactive species identified were radon 222 and radon progeny
which are part of the natural uranium (U-238) decay series.
Alberta Occupational Health and
Safety ("AOHS"), Radiation Health Branch conducted a further
investigation and has since issued a report on its findings.
Although the AOHS report indicates that no significant public health
risk due to radon or radon progeny in propane product was found,
AOHS recommends that the petroleum industry develop a quality
assurance program to qualitatively measure the concentration of
radon in propane prior to release to the open market. *
The report also indicates that
workers are only receiving radiation exposures approaching the safe
maximum annual limit when they come in direct contact with equipment
and when contact is maintained for a complete work day. Survey
measurements indicate that radon progeny are accumulating in various
Although worker proximity at
this time does not currently pose a significant health risk, the
continued build-up of radon progeny in on-line equipment could
change the status quo when equipment is taken off-line for servicing
or disposal. Removal of metal housings or machining of contaminated
internal surfaces could present an unacceptable level of worker
exposure either externally due to radiation emission from radon
progeny or internally due to the possible inhalation of these
particulates by workers not following acceptable contamination
control procedures. Therefore, the report indicates that an on-going
radiation monitoring program is a prudent option to consider by all
companies with facilities having similar equipment in propane
Q: What other ways can radiation
leave the gas patch?
A: In the natural gas you burn.
Radon in Natural Gas from
By Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D.
submitted to the New York DEC
A significant public health hazard associated
with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation must
be seriously investigated by the New York State Department of
Environmental Conservation (DEC). This hazard is from
radioactive radon gas and the potential for large numbers of lung
cancer among natural gas customers. This issue, which has
been ignored in the DECís Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement, must be addressed in a revised Impact Statement and
before DEC issues any drilling permits.
sources for natural gas, located in Texas and Louisiana, the
Marcellus Shale is considerably closer to New York consumers. In
addition, the radioactive levels at the wellheads in New York are
higher than the national average for natural gas wells throughout
In this paper
Radioactive Waste Management Associates calculates the wellhead
concentrations of radon in natural gas from Marcellus Shale, the
time to transit to consumers, particularly New York City residents,
and the potential health effects of releasing radon, especially in
the smaller living quarters found in urban areas.
It is well known
that radon (radon-222) is present in natural gas. Published reports
by R H Johnson of the US Environmental Protection Agency and C V
Gogolak of the US Department of Energy also address this issue.
Radon is present in natural gas from Marcellus Shale at much higher
concentrations than natural gas from wells in Louisiana and Texas.
Since radon is a
decay product of radium-226, to calculate radon levels it is
necessary to know the concentrations of radium-226, Based on a USGS
study and gamma ray logs (also known as GAPI logs) that we have
examined, the radium concentrations in the Marcellus Shale is 8 to
32 times background. This compares to an average radium-226 in
surface soil in New York State of 0.81 picoCuries per gram (pCi/g)
Using this range of
radium concentrations and a simple Fortran program that simulates
the production of radon in the well bore, and transit to the
wellhead, we calculate a range of radon concentrations at the
wellhead between 36.9 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) to 2576 pCi/L.
wellhead concentrations in Marcellus shale are up to 70 times the
average in natural gas wells throughout the U.S. The average
was calculated by R.H.Johnson of the US Environmental Protection
Agency in 1973 (pre-fracking) to be 37 pCi/L to a maximum of 1450
In addition, the
distance to New York State apartments and homes from the Marcellus
formation is 400 miles and sometimes less. This contrasts with the
distance from the Gulf Coast and other formations which is 1800
miles. At 10 mph movement in the pipeline, natural gas containing
the radioactive gas, radon, which has a half-life of 3.8 days, will
have three times the radon concentrations than natural gas
originating at the Gulf Coast., everything else being equal, which
it is not.
Being an inert gas,
radon will not be destroyed when natural gas is burned in a kitchen
the number of excess lung cancer deaths for New York State.
Our results: the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to
radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to
This is an
additional number of lung cancer deaths due to radon from Marcellus
Shale over deaths from natural radon already impacting New York
State homes and their residents.