Bloomberg News

Radiation in Pennsylvania Creek Seen as Legacy of Fracking

October 02, 2013

Fracking in Pennsylvania

A natural gas drill is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pennsylvania. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Naturally occurring radiation brought to the surface by gas drillers has been detected in a Pennsylvania creek that flows into the Allegheny River, illustrating the risks of wastewater disposal from the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

Sediment in Blacklick Creek contained radium in concentrations 200 times above normal, or background levels, according to the study, published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The radium, along with salts such as bromide, came from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility about 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Pittsburgh, a plant that treats wastewater from oil and gas drilling.

“The absolute levels that we found are much higher than what you allow in the U.S. for any place to dump radioactive material,” Avner Vengosh, a professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and co-author of the study, said in an interview. “The radium will be bio-accumulating. You eventually could get it in the fish.”

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking has been blamed for contaminating streams and private water wells after spills from wastewater holding ponds or leaks from faulty gas wells. Today’s report exposes the risks of disposing of the surging volumes of waste from gas fracking. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing new standards for disposing of gas drilling waste.

Commercial Treatment

For decades Pennsylvania disposed of wastewater from oil and gas drilling at commercial treatment plants that discharged into rivers and streams. A natural-gas boom brought on by fracking in a geologic formation called the Marcellus Shale led to a 570 percent increase in the volume of drilling wastewater since 2004, according to Brian Lutz, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

In fracking, millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are forced underground to shatter rock and free trapped gas. As much as 80 percent of the fluid returns to the surface along with radium, and salts such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine, bromide.

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East Bay Express

Fracking Jerry Brown

The governor signed a bill that likely will expand fracking in California after taking $2.5 million in contributions from oil and natural gas interests.


Before Jerry Brown signed legislation last month that promises to greatly expand fracking in California, the governor accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations over the past several years from oil and natural gas interests, according to public records on file with the Secretary of State’s Office and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Of the total, $770,000 went to Brown’s two Oakland charter schools — the Oakland School for the Arts and the Oakland Military Institute. The other $1.72 million went to his statewide political campaigns for attorney general and governor, along with his Proposition 30 ballot-measure campaign last year.

The governor signed Senate Bill 4 into law despite widespread opposition from the environmental community. The bill, which underwent major changes in the last week of this year’s legislative session after intense lobbying from the oil and gas industry, requires state regulators to approve all fracking permit requests in California for the next two years — as long as oil and gas companies disclose to state officials what chemicals they’re using during hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking, a controversial process that involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth in order to release otherwise trapped oil and natural gas deposits, has been linked to groundwater and air pollution, and there’s evidence that it causes earthquakes. But the oil and gas industry views California and its giant Monterey Shale deposit as the next big boon for domestic fossil fuels. The underground deposit is estimated to contain 15 billion barrels of extractable oil and natural gas.

Several environmental groups, including Sierra Club California, have called for a ban or a moratorium on fracking in the state. And SB 4 originally created a division in the environmental community — with several groups opposing it because they contended that it was too weak, while other groups backed it for fear that the state would end up with no regulations at all. However, some of these latter groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters, withdrew their support for SB 4 after the oil and gas industry successfully pushed for last-minute changes to it.

SB 4 also originally sparked opposition from within the Brown administration not long after state Senator Fran Pavley, a Southern California Democrat, introduced it earlier this year. In May, the state Department of Finance issued an official opposition letter on SB 4, essentially contending that the legislation was too tough on oil and gas companies and that it threatened to stifle the economic boom that fracking may create in California. At the time, the bill proposed a moratorium on fracking while the state conducts a full environmental analysis of the oil and natural gas extraction method. “This bill could result in significant negative impacts to California’s economy,” Brown’s Department of Finance argued back then. “A moratorium would likely result in a significant loss of jobs and tax revenues.”

The oil and natural gas industry also adamantly opposed SB 4 throughout much of 2013. But after behind-the-scenes lobbying, Pavley agreed on September 6 to amend her legislation. Rather than imposing a temporary moratorium, SB 4 instead forces state regulators to approve all fracking requests. The bill also could undermine aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act.

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Radiation Found in Penn. Watershed 300 Times Over Normal Levels

Radium 226RA was found in a local Penn. watershed, raising concerns amongst Americans across the country.

By Shepard Ambellas
October 2, 2013

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, PENN. — The disposal of toxic chemical byproducts used in U.S. oil and gas production (i.e. fracking) has led to the poisoning of our watersheds and water supplies in some areas of the country. In fact, in some instances the gaseous chemical byproducts have been so heavy  they have made their way into homes. It has even been documented that peoples sink faucets have ignited into flames right at the kitchen tap. However, flames aren’t enough anymore, the corporations doing the fracking keep pushing for profits and now our water supply is at stake.

Runoff from chemical plants threaten all animal, plant and human life more than ever now as radiation has been discovered in the local Westmoreland County watershed.

The official website for the Blacklick Creek Watershed Association  describes what the area is supposed to be, “The Blacklick Creek watershed is 420 square miles in Indiana and Cambria counties. The largest streams are Blacklick, Twolick and Yellow Creeks.  These and other streams are degraded by severe acid mine discharges.  Many streams within the watershed are polluted with high levels of metals and acidity.  There are many discharges from abandoned underground mines, poorly reclaimed surface mines and coal refuse piles”[1]

The journal for Environmental Science and Technology published a peer-reviewed study which yielded findings showing very high levels of Radium (226RA) exist in the Westmoreland County Watersheds, Blacklick Creek, which flows into the Allegheny River. “This study examined the water quality and isotopic compositions of discharged effluents, surface waters, and stream sediments associated with a treatment facility site in western Pennsylvania.”, reads an excerpt from the study entitled, Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania.[2]

The study concluded that chemicals used in the fracking process have ended up in the watershed, posing a great risk. The study documents how Radium “226Ra levels in stream sediments (544–8759 Bq/kg) at the point of discharge were 200 times greater than upstream and background sediments (22–44 Bq/kg) and above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations, posing potential environmental risks of radium bioaccumulation in localized areas of shale gas wastewater disposal.”[2]

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Cheneyesque fracking loophole leaves home and land owners uncertain (Video)

Karen HansenEnvironmental News Examiner

The recent Colorado floods revealed the dangers of oil and water. (YouTube/ ClimateState)
September 30, 2013

A Cheneyesque fracking loophole in California’s recent SB4 fracking legislation re-sets the national tone of the oil & gas industry towards home and land owner’s properties to ‘uncertain.’

The “Golden” state, known for leading the way in its renewable portfolio standards to 33% by 2020, may now instead be marred with the unintended consequences of ‘green lighting,’ rather than abating the practice of fracking. Vice President Cheney originally set the ‘fracking loophole’ into motion to skirt the Clean Water Act given the Bush Energy Policy of 2005.

“The loopholes,” writes Sofia Plagakis from the Center for Effective Government, “regarding waivers of an environmental impact analysis leave the legislation ineffective in protecting public health and the environment for the next two years. Environmental groups and communities are calling on Brown and state lawmakers to fix these provisions and to impose a moratorium until the state can full assess the threats of fracking and acidization to California’s air, water, and communities.”

Despite an applauded-by-activists planned online disclosure of what is contained in the chemical cocktail being injected into the subsurface; under the new legislation, fracking will not be regulated by the State Water Quality Control Board’s underground injection program, but instead given to the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), potentially circumventing California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA.)

“The big picture,” per Adam Scow, California Director for Food and Water Watch, “is that SB4 never did anything to make fracking safer or to slow it down.”

Disclosure of anything material to a prospective home, land buyer meets standard of care

Disclosing any information ‘material’ to the sale of a home or land constitutes California’s standard of care. Residential and Commercial Real Estate Disclosure giant First American Real Estate Disclosures JCP-LGS division currently produces an environmental screening report that discloses the location of active and abandoned oil and gas wells within ¼-mile of the sale property.

The firm’s licensed geologist Patrick McClellan released the statement, “We are evaluating the availability and usefulness of data from the California Department of Conservation to determine whether a property-specific disclosure of fracking operations is feasible.”

The California Association of Realtors said they were looking into the issue.

Already per the South Coast AQMD Rule 1148.2 Well Stimulation notifications mapping project, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has implemented noticing and reporting requirements for oil and gas wells within its district. This is called rule 1148.2 and requires oil operators to submit specific reports of well activity related to well stimulation and drilling. The type of well stimulations reported include Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking), Acidizing (acid-fracking) and gravel packing (smaller-scale fracking). Along with these reports, chemical notification is also required.

Wait a minute, I thought the California Democratic Party’s position on fracking was to support a moratorium, something like in New York

What changed? The California Democratic party passed several resolutions saying no to fracking at its heavily attended convention in Sacramento only just in April. Tenoch Flores, Communications Director for the party simply responded with an honest, “I don’t know,” then forwarded this link to the actual fracking resolution adopted.

Amendment 24

And then they came, 4 last minute amendments; Amendment 24, the worst of them. Like something out of a Dick Cheney horror flick to environmentalists- in came the actual language:

Where the supervisor determines the activities proposed in the well simulation treatment permit or the combined authorization have met all of the requirements of Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000), and have been fully described, analyzed, evaluated, and mitigated, no additional review or mitigation shall be required.”

Climate Hawks react to fracking regulation

RL Miller, Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus, and founder of the Climate Hawks SuperPac rekindled what occurred from her perspective as a leader on the fracking issue in the Earth Island Journal : “A California Fracking Moratorium Post-Mortem.

“The September 6 amendments were so bad that the CA League of Conservation Voters, NRDC, Environmental Working Group, and Clean Water Action pulled their support of SB4. However, they didn’t send out their big press release until mid-morning Wednesday, September 11 around the same time as the Assembly began voting on SB4. A couple of Assemblymembers stated on Twitter that they didn’t know that support had been pulled until after they voted.”

“Under the new changes,” notes Miller, “fracking would be able to continue without permits until 2015. Yes, you read that right — the bill intended to make frackers get permits now says that the state regulatory agency shall allow all of the currently ongoing, unpermitted fracking and acidizing to keep on fracking and acidizing without permits until regulations are written in 2015.”

Propaganda Fracking Wars

Miller recalls, “Some troubling signs appeared up right away. A lot of stories and columns and op-eds extolling the financial benefits of the Monterey Shale popped up in a lot of strange places. It was almost as though a wealthy industry was gearing up a sophisticated yet stealthy public relations campaign in anticipation of a tough public fight.

Miller refers to Governor Jerry Brown as a ‘former environmentalist ‘who called fracking a “fabulous economic opportunity” and signaled that he would not impose a moratorium. A state senator told Miller: “Governor Brown has cut a deal with the oil companies.” “Sure enough,” Miller writes, “they had rounded up a million dollars to give to his Proposition 30 last year. Then Occidental maxed out donating his 2014 reelection campaign in June 2013 — almost as if Oxy were sending a signal that it approved of his activities on its behalf.”

Lastly she reported, “A report mostly funded by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) predicted billions of dollars and millions of jobs from California’s next black gold rush. I’m told that a Brown staffer shoved the report down the throat of any recalcitrant legislator interested in a moratorium. By the way, WSPA is California’s biggest spending lobbyist. Chevron is number six.

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