New York, NY
New York is currently gearing up for a massive expansion of gas drilling in the Marcellus ShaleA fine grained sedimentary rock composed mostly of consolidated clay or mud. Shale is the most frequently occurring sedimentary rock.ShaleA fine grained sedimentary rock composed mostly of consolidated clay or mud. Shale is the most frequently occurring sedimentary rock. is one of the most highly productive types of sedimentary rock whose density provides tight stores forhydrocarbon reserves below. Marcellus ShaleA fine grained sedimentary rock composed mostly of consolidated clay or mud. Shale is the most frequently occurring sedimentary rock. is a rock formationA body of earth material with distinctive and characteristic properties. running through about two-thirds of Pennsylvania, and areas of New York and West Virginia. Geologists estimate that there is a large enough natural gas reserve within the shaleA fine grained sedimentary rock composed mostly of consolidated clay or mud. Shale is the most frequently occurring sedimentary rock. to power the United States for one to eight years.. But state officials have made an extremely troubling discovery about the wastewater created by the drilling process – it appears to be radioactive. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation analyzed 13 samples of wastewater and found that it contains levels of radium-226, a form of uranium – as high as 267 times the limit allowed into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.
The radioactivity has been a concern since the mid 1980’s when high levels of radon gas were found in the basements of homes in an upstate town in New York.
How will this discovery be dealt with and what are the dangers of radioactivity? The energy industry will surely face tighter regulations and expenses while drilling and drilling companies would need to license their waste handlers and test their workers for radioactive exposure. The state would also have to organize its laws for radioactive waste disposal. Depending on how much radiation the people are exposed to will affect the overall impact on their health. Radium is known to cause bone, liver, and breast cancers. However, there is still disagreement over exactly how dangerous it can be for those who handle low doses.
The New York Health Department has raised concerns about the amount of radioactive materials in the wastewater and expressed that the handling and disposal of this wastewater could be a public health concern. The department also noted that workers may need monitored for radiation as much as they might be at nuclear facilities. Health Department officials declined to comment.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation is stating that the wastewater did not present a risk to workers – but declined to explain how they came to this conclusion. The department also claims that there is no precedent for examining how radioactive materials would affect the environment in this circumstance. While radioactive levels can vary across the Marcellus, levels in New York are exceptionally high. In the 13 samples taken by the state, 11 exceeded legal limits. The DEC did not state whether additional sampling has begun or if more drilling permits would be issued before the radioactivity issues are resolved.
Measuring the health threat from radiation is difficult as there are many variables that can be taken into account. As an example, gas industry workers would almost certainly face an increased risk of cancer if they worked in a confined space where gas (specifically radon gas) can collect to dangerous levels. The workers would also be at risk if they breathed in or swallowed fumes from radioactive wastewater. But without these types of interactions, the effects may be less dangerous.
Since people absorb radioactivity on their daily routines, it is hard to determine and assess the proposed health threat in an accurate manner. There is no simple formula that can solve this issue.
In New York, injection disposal wells are uncommon. Most drilling wastewater is treated and discharged back into public waterways. The infected wastewater would need to be carefully treated by plants capable of filtering the radioactive substance. If this cannot be accomplished, it could be detrimental. There are currently no facilities specifically designated for treating radioactive water.
The unintended consequences are clear, but there is no firm plan in place to regulate what can or what will be done to prevent this same mistakes from happening in the future.