West Virginia won't accept additional drilling waste tainted with radioactivity

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Range Resources shipped 12 tons of drilling sludge containing higher than normal radioactivity 100 miles to a West Virginia landfill Tuesday afternoon, but for now won't be able to use it to dispose of similar waste stored on well pads in Washington County.

Kelly Gillenwater, a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, said Thursday that Waste Management's Meadowfill Landfill in Bridgeport, just west of Clarksburg, W.Va., has been ordered to stop accepting drilling waste containing radioactivity while the department investigates the shipment.

Range had tried to dispose of the waste at the Arden Landfill, in Chartiers, Washington County, also operated by Waste Management, in early March. But the shipment from the Malinky well pad, in Smith, Washington County, was rejected when it set off alarms at the gate where its radioactivity was measured at 212 microrems, higher than the landfill's 150 microrems limit.

Range Resources spokesmen did not return calls seeking comment. Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella previously said that the radioactivity levels of the waste are not dangerous to workers or residents of the area, and that radiation measurements decline to background levels just feet away from the storage containers. Normal background levels in the area are between six and eight microrems.

The radioactivity in the waste comes from naturally occurring radioactive materials, or NORMs, which are part of the underground shale formation and can be flushed from the shale by hydraulic fracturing, becoming technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials or TENORMs.

"We are still seeking information about what happened at the Pennsylvania landfill two months ago when the waste was rejected, and about the radiation test results the company received from the lab," Ms. Gillenwater said. "For now this is still under investigation."

Lisa Kardell, a Waste Management spokeswoman, said Waste Management reviewed the shipment and "believes all the proper protocols were followed prior to disposal." She said a radiation survey of the landfill area where the Range waste loads were disposed did not find any unsafe radioactivity levels.

"We believe there is no environmental impact," she said.

According to DEP records, in the first four months of 2014 nine loads of shale gas drilling waste had been rejected by Pennsylvania landfills because of higher-than-normal radioactivity.

Two of those have been taken out of state for disposal, and two have been disposed of at the MAX Environmental Technologies Inc. landfill in Yukon, Westmoreland County, which is permitted to accept the higher radioactivity level waste.

Range is still temporarily storing three loads of previously rejected drilling waste with radioactive content at two of its well pads in Washington County: the MCC pad in Smith, which is holding two shipments, and the Carter well pad and impoundment in Mount Pleasant. Samples of the waste have been sent to a lab for analysis.

Ms. Gillenwater said West Virginia landfills are not required to monitor radioactivity of shale gas drilling waste shipments. But new regulations that will take effect Jan. 1, 2015, would include a requirement that radiation detectors be used and limits be set at all landfills in the state.

She said the DEP plans to file an emergency rule that would move up the effective date of the regulation to June.

DEP, which has been studying TENORMs related to oil and gas for 13 months, is wrapping up its field work and expects to release its report "late in 2014," said Morgan Wagner, a department spokeswoman.

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

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

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