Marcellus NORM Is Manageable For Area Landfills
Marcellus shale development has been making headlines the last few weeks. Not for the thousands of family sustaining jobs it is creating or the amount of impact fee revenue it continues to generate for local municipalities, but for the naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) sometimes found in drilling waste streams. Headlines included West Virginia landfill bans drilling sludge, W.Va. landfill barred from taking sludge from Pa. and Marcellus shale sludge rejected in Washington Co. sent to W.Va.. Unfortunately, what was not as well publicized was that regulators from West Virginia tested the material and it was cleared for disposal at the landfill.
It is no secret that drill cuttings and brine associated with Marcellus Shale development have trace amounts of NORM present in them and that’s something we’ve covered here at Energy in Depth. It’s definitely something to be conscious of and important to make sure it is being disposed of in a proper manner but in no way is it unmanageable.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP):
“DEP’s data indicates that less than half a percent of all drill cuttings produced by the Marcellus Shale industry in 2012 that were disposed of in landfills triggered radiation monitors. The cuttings did not contain levels of radioactivity that would be harmful to the public, and they were safely disposed of in the landfills.”
While these events are rare, the three Southwestern Pennsylvania papers that covered the story made it seem like there was something out of the ordinary with this waste which was a cause for concern.
Scott Mandirola, director of the West Virginia DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management stated that DEP inspectors went to the Meadowfill landfill where the drilling sludge was deposited and checked it with radioactive detectors. The Marcellus waste measured 20 microrems per hour above natural radiation levels which, according to Mandirola, is only a fraction of a year’s acceptable radiation exposure for workers.
In terms of the drilling sludge brought to the Meadowfill landfill, Mandirola stated:
“It was determined the best approach was to cover the material with a foot of cover material, which is soil, It can’t penetrate the soil. There was no citation or ticket written… Everything has a certain degree of radioactivity, the concept is the Marcellus shale has the potential to have a higher level of radioactivity. That doesn’t mean its glowing green… medical waste, which is also deposited at landfills, has the potential to have levels of radiation exceeding natural amounts, as well.”
It’s not surprising that Mandirola brought up radioactive medical waste which has been disposed of at landfills for decades yet, that never seems to make headlines when it trips alarms. NORM is something landfills have been testing at their sites for years and these professionals know best how to handle the material.
Recently, Vice President of the Casella Waste Systems landfill addressed some of measures they have in place for monitoring NORM, stating:
“The facility prescreens the materials prior to them coming to the site and then scans each truck for radiation at the entrance gate. Trucks carrying materials out from the site also travel through the detectors.”
“If a truck activates the radiation detector upon entry, his staff immediately checks the materials to determine what the source of the radiation is and also notifies the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) about the alarm.”
The need for proper disposal of shale development waste has even helped landfills expand their business. Max Environmental Technologies, an Upper St. Clair company, operates two landfills with plans to expand the Bulger site in Washington County so it can accept more waste from shale development.
Carl Spadaro, environmental manager at Max Environmental stated that he wasn’t concerned about the radioactivity, adding:
“We’ve been doing a fair amount of drilling waste disposal activity over past 10 to 12 months. Since we’ve had that radiation limit change last year, we haven’t had one incident of any truck with drilling waste triggering a radiation alarm at the Yukon facility.”
After hearing from the people that actually deal with cuttings from shale development, it’s evident that just like waste from other industries it’s completely manageable. With the proper handling and disposal of cuttings we can ensure the environment remains protected and residents throughout the Commonwealth as well as the rest of the United States continue to reap the vast benefits from continued shale development.