Two drilling pads in Washington County are storing Marcellus Shale drilling sludge with radioactivity levels that are too high for regular disposal.
According to John Poister, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman, drilling company Range Resources sent the department a request for a Department of Transportation exemption form March 1st.
The form would allow Range Resources to move waste that has a “higher than background radiation level” - meaning that it is a higher level than the radiation that is usually found in the environment.
“They had taken two roll off boxes filled with sludge from a drilling procedure to the Arden Landfill in Washington County” Poister said. “And as normal procedure goes, Arden conducted a radiation test, and it tripped their radiation monitor and they rejected the load.”
He said Range Resources then moved the boxes back to where the sludge came from at the Melechi and the MCC pads.
According to Poister, the drilling company had to then take samples of the sludge and send them to a lab that would determine the exact type of radiation in the sludge. This would enable them to determine exactly what to do with the sludge.
“We confirmed the radiation levels, which were low,” Poister said. “We were talking about 212 microrems, which in the boxes as they were stored on the site provides no danger to workers on the site or nearby residents.”
Poister said that the sludge would not even harm the environment as long as it is disposed of properly.
But he said the radioactivity content is still higher than usual and is too high for landfills in Pennsylvania to accept.
“So Range I believe is awaiting a final determination as to where they’ll take those loads for disposal,” Poister said. “But they will most likely go to a site out of state.”
He said the drilling company needs to give the DEP 72 hours notice before moving the waste.
“In just about every case that I can think of, they like to get it properly disposed of quickly, they don’t like to keep them around the drill sites very long,” Poister said. “So I would look for Range, if they haven’t already begun moving that, that they should be moving it by the end of this week.”
Because Marcellus Shale is particularly radioactive, many worry that the chemically treated water used to shatter the shale is contaminated and is not being treated adequately before being released into Pennsylvania’s waterways.