Two more drilling sites found with Marcellus Shale sludge radioactivity in Washington County; DEP sees no threat

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Range Resources has confirmed that Marcellus Shale drilling sludge with radioactivity content too high for normal landfill disposal is stored at two more of its drilling pads in Washington County.

Waste containing higher radioactivity levels is being temporarily held by Range at the Malinky pad and the MCC pad in Smith, near Mount Pleasant. Earlier this month, drilling sludge from Range Resources' Carter drill pad and impoundment in Mount Pleasant was also found to have higher radioactivity readings.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister said the stored waste doesn't present a health threat to nearby workers or residents.

In March, Range trucked the drilling waste to the Arden Landfill in Chartiers, Washington County, but the landfill rejected the shipment after it set off alarms at the gate, indicating its higher radioactivity reading, Mr. Poister said.

The DEP said radioactivity levels of the two red metal boxes on the Malinky pad were measured at 212 microrems. Range said the radioactivity level of the MCC pad waste was also at "about 200 microrems an hour."

Mr. Poister said the waste at the Malinky pad, stored in metal boxes leased from the Adler Co., will be sent to a lab for analysis. Range obtained a Department of Transportation exemption from DEP on March 1 that allowed it to transport the loads back to the pad where they originated.

Matt Pitzarella, a Range spokesman, said this is the peak time when landfills receive waste material with high radiation readings and occasionally return the material for additional testing.

"Often times the landfills can accept the material and in some cases it may need to go to another [waste disposal] facility. The same can be said for other industries like construction or the medical industry and even residential waste companies," Mr. Pitzarella said.

He said the radioactivity measurements at the landfill were done very close to the Malinky containers, but the radioactivity declined to background levels quickly within a short distance from the containers. He said the lab characterizations of radioactivity can take several weeks.

State oil and gas regulations give Range one year to remove the waste bearing radioactivity from the drill pad sites where it is being stored in large metal containers properly identifying their radioactivity content, but Mr. Pitzarella said he expects disposal of the Malinky waste material this week.

Mr. Poister said the DEP is encouraging landfills to enforce radioactivity rules. "We've been talking to landfills and encouraging them to reject loads with radioactivity higher than 150 microrems because we want more thought given to how we handle this and what goes into landfills. It's something we feel is necessary given the oil and gas boom."

He said it's "not uncommon" for wastewater to have picked up natural radiation washed from the underground shale formation. Normal background radiation in the area is between six and eight microrems.

He said Range told the DEP it has not yet determined where the loads of higher radioactivity materials will be disposed. Range must alert DEP 72 hours before the radioactive loads are moved, notify the department of the final disposal site and provide receipts.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


First Published May 27, 2014 3:38 PM

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