Appalachian Basin

New Delaware Riverkeeper Report Uses Debunked Radiation Research

A new report from the Delaware Riverkeeper critiques an 11-month old study from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which found little risk of radioactivity exposure from shale development. Riverkeeper says that the DEP study is “incomplete, inaccurate and invalid, and should be redone,” but in order to reach this conclusion they use the research of Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, which experts have said is based on a “sensational and false assertion.” In other words, once again Riverkeeper has ignored reality to produce a report that supports its anti-fracking agenda.

For anyone not familiar with Resnikoff, EID has written about him in the past; see here, here, here and here. Despite being debunked by experts and regulators alike, Resnikoff is at it again claiming that naturally occurring radioactivity in the Marcellus Shale has not been accurately measured and can’t be properly handled.

Resnikoff’s latest report truly grabs at straws with a majority of his “research” coming from previously debunked studies. Take this excerpt regarding radon in Marcellus gas:

“A recent study by researchers at John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health confirms the increased impact of fracking on radon in homes in Pennsylvania. The Bloomberg study reported that 42 percent of the readings were higher than what is considered safe by federal standards. The study was based on a review of DEP’s database of radon concentrations in 860,000 buildings between the years 1989 to 2013. Radon levels are often assessed when property is being bought or sold and these records are kept by DEP.” (Pg. 9)

What Resnikoff leaves out of this excerpt is that some of the highest radon readings from that study came from places without any shale development. From the John Hopkins study:

“We identified several predictors of indoor radiation concentrations in Pennsylvania, a state with historically high levels. Water source, building type, test type, test duration, season, weather, county, and geologic unit were associated with indoor radon concentration. When data was aggregated to county categories, on average, Reading Prong counties had the highest indoor radon concentrations.” (Pg. 16; emphasis added)

Resnikoff also tries to slip in his own previously debunked observations like this one of radium concentrations in drill cuttings reported by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC):

“The DEP Study sampled brine for radium content. In his public presentations, Dr. Allard previously stated that radium concentrations in brine could be as high as 11,000 pCi/L52, also NYSDEC has reported radium-226 concentrations over 15,000 pCi/L. PESI found radium-226 concentrations from 40.5 to 26,600 pCi/L53 in unfiltered samples, and almost the same in filtered samples; 87.0 to 24,100 pCi/L. Clearly filtering was not removing the radium, which was in solution, not in particle form. Conventional water treatment plants which remove solids are not able to effectively remove radium from wastewater unless radium is converted to a solid.” (Pg. 14)

Notice in Resnikoff’s report, he never references where the NYSDEC made this finding of radium concentrations, but this wasn’t the first time he’s made the claim, as EID has previously reported. Resnikoff gets this number from a report titled, “An Investigation of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Oil and Gas Wells in New York State”, but a review of the document shows that that the NYDEC actually reported numbers that were hundreds of times lower:

“The brine radium results, 0.95 and 24 picocuries per milliliter (pCi/ml) for one sample, and 3.8 and 7.7 pCi/ml for the other (Ra-226 and Ra-228 respectively), pose no threat to public health or the environment.” (Pg. S-2)

Unfortunately for the Riverkeeper and Resnikoff, the Pennsylvania DEP is not the only entity that has studied the radioactivity of Marcellus waste. Just across the border, a study by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) came to similar conclusions as Pa. DEP:

  • Radioactive compound levels in landfill leachate are at similar levels at both landfills that accept drill cuttings, and landfills that don’t accept drill cuttings.”
  • “Drill cuttings from the Marcellus Shale formation contain radioactive compounds at levels higher than the overlying strata, and are likely contributing to radioactive compounds present in landfill leachate. However, radioactive compounds are found at landfills that don’t accept drill cuttings, therefore it can be expected that radioactive compounds present in landfill leachate, at landfills that accept drill cuttings, are also the result of other materials being accepted in the landfill.
  • Radon levels recorded are significantly below proposed federal drinking water standards.” (emphasis added, 154)

The facts continue to show that accusations like those from Riverkeeper and Resnikoff are merely an attempt to push their anti-fracking agenda which is rooted in ideology and not science. Researchers across the country have found that when shale waste is brought back to the surface it properly handled and disposed of in landfills that are designed to accept that kind of waste safely.


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