Radioactive Discharges from Marcellus Shale Fracking Observed in
3 October 2013
By David Conti, Staff Reporter
State environmental regulators and owners of an Indiana County
water treatment plant say they've been working for years to avoid
any more of the radioactive Marcellus shale discharge that Duke
University researchers found in a study published on Wednesday.
“DEP is very well aware of this,” Department of Environmental
Protection spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said about the study that
called radiation levels in Black Lick Creek alarming.
The agency and Josephine treatment plant owner Fluid Recovery
Services signed an agreement in May that bars the facility from
accepting, treating or discharging wastewater from unconventional
drilling operations, such as those used to extract natural gas
from the Marcellus shale through hydraulic fracturing or
The agreement and related fines from the Environmental Protection
Agency came from tests in 2011 that showed excessive levels of
radioactive chemicals in the creek's sediment near the plant.
Study co-author Avner Vengosh, a professor at Duke's Nicholas
School of the Environment, said isotopes in the water that
researchers sampled for more than two years indicate the plant
continued to treat and release wastewater from Marcellus fracking
sites even though the plant and the DEP said it stopped in 2011.
Devesh Mittal, vice president of Canonsburg-based Aquatech, which
bought Fluid Recovery Services this year, denied that claim.
“We haven't done that since 2011,” he said.
The study adds to a nascent but growing body of research on
fracking that continues to provide an inconsistent picture of
potential environmental impact. DEP is conducting a sweeping study
of all possible impacts around drilling.
DEP knows that both fracking and conventional drilling can free
naturally occurring radioactivity from rock formations and leave
it in wastewater, Kasianowitz said. The May agreement says Black
Lick Creeks's radioactive sediment, while above accepted levels,
posed no immediate risk to people passing by.
Vengosh said data from the peer-reviewed study, published in
Environmental Science & Technology, showed the ratio of
fracking wastewater in the creek decreased but never disappeared.
“How does the facility know what's in the trucks” that drillers
bring, Vengosh asked. “It could be mixed.”
Kasianowitz said regulators monitor what the plant discharges and
have been back to the Josephine plant since May to ensure no more
fracking water is treated or discharged.
The agreement calls for Aquatech to upgrade the Josephine plant
and two others so they can accept and properly treat Marcellus
wastewater with high radioactive levels. Mittal said the EPA
estimated the cost at $30 million per plant, although he would not
say how much the company is spending.
“We are building the infrastructure to help this industry
prosper,” he said.
David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-388-5802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.