The study of Blacklick Creek, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that creek sediment contained radium in concentrations 200 times above normal, background levels. Those elevated levels are so high that they “would only be accepted at a licensed radioactive disposal facility.” This is despite the fact that, according to the study, treatment reduced barium and radium levels by more than ninety percent compared to concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters. The study also found elevated levels of salts such as bromide.
The impacts described came from a plant that, according to published reports, stopped treating wastewater from oil and gas drilling two and a half years ago. But that’s like the blink of an eye – the radioactivity could persist for literally thousands of years. The study authors noted that the radium contamination could accumulate in plants and animals and be transferred through the food chain to humans.Pennsylvania cannot afford to allow yet another legacy of environmental degradation from energy extraction. The study vividly illustrates the risks of treating and disposing of the surging volumes of waste from hydraulic fracturing. It points to the need for a review of current federal and state regulations, for the development of much stronger protections, and for constant, ubiquitous monitoring of water quality. It also illustrates the need for a serious drive toward eliminating the use of water in unconventional oil and gas development.