Alarm Set Off by Shale Truck in Huntingdon

A truck carrying drill cuttings from the Marcellus shale triggered a radiation alarm at a hazardous waste landfill in South Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.

The truck was ordered back to a Greene County drilling site, said TribLive. According to Township Supervisor, Mel Cornell, the MAX Environmental Technologies truck was quarantined after it set off the alarm at MAX’s landfill near Yukon. Yukon is a 159-acre site that accepts residual and hazardous waste, said TribLive.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman John Poister confirmed that drill cutting materials from Rice Energy’s Thunder II pad in Greene County tested with a radiation level of 96 microrem, significantly higher than the 10 microrem, or higher, level under which the landfill must reject waste, said TribLive. The DEP advised MAX to return the radioactive materials to the well pad from where it was extracted, said Poister. From there the materials would be moved to disposal at an approved facility.

“The material in question was radium 226, which is what we expect from shale drill cuttings. Every landfill in the state has radiation monitors and this showed the system did work,” Poister told TribLive. Poister also said that Rice Energy will decide if the load will be re-tested for radiation levels and re-application for unloading the materials either at an approved landfill or to an out-of-state facility that accepts these types of materials.

“It’s not too frequent that this occurs, but it’s not totally infrequent either,” Poister said. In 2012, MAX sought to change its permit near Yukon to accept waste with radiation levels of up to 140 microrem, TribLive noted.

A microrem is the unit measurement that determines the biological risk of radiation to human tissue. On an annual average, explained the TribLive, a person living in the United States is exposed to 620,000 microrem, which, for the most part, originates from natural sources, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained. A chest X-ray delivers about 4,000 microrem, an airport body scan emits about 10 microrem, the same amount as the radiation received from 15 minutes in the sun, the EPA said.

Earlier this year, Governor Tom Corbett directed the DEP to conduct a comprehensive study of the issue concerning radiation levels in byproducts associated with the oil and natural gas development industry, said TribLive. According to Poister, the study is ongoing.

Fracking drilling is just one method of extracting natural gas and  involves injecting massive amounts of water, silica sand, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals underground via a concrete well that extends to an underground bed of shale rock. When this combination reaches the rock, the rock is blasted apart and natural gas is released. The gas is then meant to be returned to the surface where it to be captured.

The natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, encompasses parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey and is thought to contain billions of dollars in natural gas reserves. As gas drilling has expanded and thousands of wells have been opened in just the last few years, residents of these and other states impacted by hydraulic fracturing—fracking—including Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia, have raised concerns over the safety of fracking drilling.

In the case of fracking, either through the fault of  shoddy wells or poorly trained well workers, or through a questionable drilling process altogether, natural gas and the contents of the drilling fluids are often released underground through cracks in the wells or the fractures created by the drilling. This, many residents closest to wells believe, has led to a contamination of their private water supplies, in some cases rendering the wells completely contaminated.

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