Pennsylvania’s TENORM Study is Released – What are the Conclusions?
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) is found in virtually all soil and rock on the earth’s surface. NORM can also be found in groundwater as the result of its contact with NORM bearing geologic formations. When human related activities disturb the soil, rock or groundwater and change the NORM from its original state, the NORM becomes TENORM (Technically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material). Drilling activity associated with shale gas development impacts or disturbs geologic formations that produce drill cuttings or rock that are returned to the surface. In addition, some water from these deep formations that returns as part of the flowback and produced water from the well would also contain TENORM.
As part of its overall regulatory oversight of oil and gas operations in the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in January, 2013 began to study radioactivity levels in the drill cuttings, flowback, sludges and other wastes associated with oil and gas activities. The results of this comprehensive, peer reviewed study were released on January 15, 2015. The 100 page report concluded, in part, that:
- There is little or limited potential for radiation exposure to the public or workers from the development, production, transmission, processing and use of natural gas.
- There is little potential for additional radon exposure to the public due to the use of natural gas extracted from geologic formations in Pennsylvania
- There is little potential for radiation exposure to workers at facilities that treat oil and gas wastes as well as workers at landfills that receive wastes from the oil and gas industry. However, the study recommends that all facilities, instead of just those sampled, should be evaluated to determine if there are any specific areas that need remediation.
While the report failed to uncover any radiological health related problems or concerns associated with oil and gas activities, it is likely the Department will adopt some additional monitoring and sampling requirements for some industry related activities.