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Monday, January 2, 2012

Radon and Fracking--a new dangerous threat!

Special Delivery? Spectra pipeline could bring radon to NYC stoves

 From the Sane Energy Project

BREAKING NEWS  Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter has issued a press release: Professor James W. Ring, Professor Emeritus of nuclear physics at Hamilton College, has confirmed, in his testimony to the NYS DEC, the dangers of inhaled radon and the likelihood that shale gas extracted from the Marcellus will deliver radon into residences at point of use. The Spectra pipeline will deliver Marcellus shale gas from nearby Pennsylvania to New York City homes, increasing the risk that residents will inhale radon when turn on their gas stoves.
Professor Ring explains:
This is a serious health hazard when radon is breathed into the lungs and lodges there to decay, doing damage to the lung’s tissue and eventually leading to lung cancer. Next to smoking, radon is the most potent cause of lung cancer.  The radon and natural gas coming from the shale mix together, and travel together, as the gas is piped to customers. Radon can get into the indoor environment as gas stoves are turned on.
Radon gas, which is not absorbed by the skin, is present in many circumstances. When present outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, it is not generally a concern. It becomes dangerous when inhaled, which is more likely in small or poorly-ventilated rooms, such as the typical New York City kitchen. Many apartment kitchens do not have windows, and residents often seal vents to avoid neighbors’ cooking odors.
Radon is released with methane during the extraction process of hydrofracking. This is true wherever fracking is done. The shale and gas in the Marcellus areas of Pennsylvania has proven to be more highly radioactive than other, more distant shale plays, which have previously supplied New York’s gas. Radon is more of a concern the closer the supply, because there is less time for the radioactivity to dissipate. It is estimated that gas from Pennsylvania would travel to NYC within one day’s time. During winter months, when demand is higher, gas is delivered faster, and, with apartment windows tending to be closed, the risk would be even greater.
Radon has a half life of 3.8 days. Using the general rule of thumb of 10 half lives to decay to 1/1000 of original concentration, that would be 38 days, or roughly one month, depending on how radioactive it was to start. With radon, a gas, the minimum dangerous concentration is much lower if breathed in.  Twenty half lives (or 1/1,000,000 of original concentration) would require 76 days or two and a half months. When fully decayed, radon converts to lead, not exactly a harmless substance itself.
As more of the gas supplied to NYC apartments comes from fracked sources, radon becomes more and more of a concern. Currently, 30% of the national gas supply is from unconventional (fracked) sources, up from 9% just 2 years ago. The portion of the Spectra pipeline capacity which will supply Con Edison is contracted to Chesapeake Energy, a major driller in the Marcellus, and would greatly increase the amount of fracked gas coming directly to NY from PA. 
The draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) of the Spectra pipeline does not include radon in its review of issues. This is a subject which deserves further study before this, or any other supplies of Marcellus gas, are delivered to the residents of the five boroughs, where it may endanger the health of tens of thousands of citizens.
Pink areas of map show “high” radon potential (US Geological Survey) 

From Stop Fracking Ontario

Radon threats are grounds for precaution

Chemical Valley industries are arranging to use shale gas supplies that very likely could be contaminated with radon, given how these gas feedstocks are extracted through fracking — a technique that is used to retrieve gas from shale rock located very deep underground. Two Texas companies have agreed to send this shale gas from the northeastern United States to the Nova Chemical plant in Sarnia, and there is wider industry support for these imports of gas from fracking.
For the sake of the health and safety of the residents of Sarnia-Lambton — and others around the region — it is important that we apply the precautionary principle to this issue. We should assume that shale gas could come with radon contamination, if we cannot prove otherwise.
This gas is from shale that often contains significant quantities of uranium, as well as the products of its radioactive decay, including radium and radon, a colourless, odourless, and intensely radioactive gas. Because it is common in many rock formations throughout North America and elsewhere, radon is responsible for most of our daily exposure to damaging radiation. Radon gas that seeps up from subterranean rock formations often accumulates in basements — sometimes resulting in dangerous levels. Lung cancer caused by breathing radon contaminated air already is estimated to cause 25,000 deaths per year in the United States alone and is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking.
It is very possible that gas from fracking frequently is radioactive, since radon could be mixed with shale gas, due to their occurrence in the same rocks. Radon is chemically inert, which means that even when radon-containing gas is burned, the radon portion emerges intact. When this radon is released into the atmosphere along with the carbon dioxide from burning the methane in the gas, the air around us would become polluted with radioactive gas. When shale gas is burned in an enclosed space (e.g. inside a building) the air inside could become radioactive if there are any leaks in the exhaust ductwork. Similarly, when shale gas is converted into other gases by petrochemical industries, those product gases might also be radioactive due to radon contamination.
The difficulty of studying the impacts of substances that already are used and produced in Chemical Valley should be clear, now that years of delays have held back regional health study plans. There is no independent and officially recognized study of any impacts from the known carcinogens, as well as endocrine disruptors, and numerous other dangerous substances, in and around the Sarnia-Lambton petrochemical facilities. Bringing shale gas that may be contaminated with radon into Chemical Valley would complicate these matters further.
Would there ever be any independent testing for radon contamination? How thorough would such tests be? Would the full results be disclosed to employees, and the general public?
We ask these questions because possible radon contamination is not being discussed by companies and organizations which are pursuing shale gas imports for Sarnia-Lambton, without addressing any pollution threats (during the recent Sarnia-Lambton Shale Gas Conference, for example — which was held to discuss and promote shale gas imports into Sarnia-Lambton).
We are focusing on threats from radon, but there are many health and environmental dangers associated with shale gas. Water contamination is the worst of the impacts around the sites which are fracked to retrieve this gas. Yet, there are plans for fracking in Ontario — beginning in south Lambton. Importing shale gas for petrochemical industries would stimulate further fracking in Ontario, and elsewhere. In the meantime, the worldwide movement to ban fracking is gaining momentum with the recent bans by France and New Jersey.
In view of the potential negative impacts on the health and well-being of our citizens, we will suggest that there should be a ban on fracking across Ontario.
There also should be an immediate moratorium on imports of shale gas to Ontario until tests for radon in the gas have been completed and publicized. If radon is found in shale gas, it would be one more good reason to ban fracking altogether.
Toban Black, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology with Environment & Sustainability;
Robert Cory, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Chemistry

The Dangers of Fracking from New York Friends of Clearwater

Written by Edie Kantrowitz on 13 April 2011.
Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking,” continues to be one of the most serious challenges facing our environment today. In order to extract natural methane gas for an “alternative” source of energy, hundreds of chemicals, many of which are toxic, neurotoxic, or even carcinogenic, are injected into the ground to fracture rock and release methane. Not only do many of these chemicals then leak into surrounding lands, streams, aquifers and wells, but the vast amounts of wastewater created by the process are also highly toxic, and contaminate whatever they come in contact with, especially as adequate wastewater disposal is not always available. 
The industry has attempted to keep the identity of these chemicals secret or “proprietary,” making it difficult for individuals suffering health effects to even know exactly to which chemicals they have been exposed. It has been learned that in some instances, diesel has been used, although specifically prohibited. The large number of wells drilled has in other states already turned landscapes into an industrial wasteland, created air pollution, and had a devastating result for wildlife. While the gas industry claims that wastewater will be “recycled” to use again in the fracking process, this is not a real solution to the wastewater problem because the water becomes even more toxic if it used to frack repeatedly, and disposal of this contaminated water is still required.
The effects of fracking have been repeatedly documented, for example, in the powerful motion picture “Gaslands” by Josh Fox, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award. On February 27, 2011, an article in the New York Times revealed that radioactive radon gas released by the fracking process has created a problem with radioactive wastewater disposal in Pennsylvania, where many wells have been drilled to frack the “Marcellus Shale” formation, and stated that radioactive wastewater has been discharged into the Monangahela River, from which comes Pittsburghʼs drinking water supply. In some instances, wastewater from fracked wells has been found to have radioactivity over 1,000 times in excess of permissible standards.
It has been difficult to regulate fracking in part because, amazingly, the hydraulic fracturing industry in 2005 was exempted from compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and several other environmental laws. This exemption is known as the “Halliburton loophole” because it was added to these laws by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has strong ties to Halliburton.
Now this dangerous practice of fracking is coming to a watershed near you, and it must be stopped! Plans are underway for fracking in both the Delaware River basin, and upstate New York. Former Governor Paterson signed a moratorium on fracking in New York State, but it lasts only until July 1, 2011. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has issued draft regulations that would permit fracking in the basin, including watershed areas that affect the drinking water supplies for both New York and Philadelphia. DRBC has held only three public hearings on these regulations, none of which were in New York or Philadelphia, and attempts have been made to get DRBC to schedule more hearings. The DRBC is, however, accepting public comments on the regulations until April 15, 2011, so it is extremely important that you contact them and voice your concerns. The New York City Council Committee on the Environment also held a public hearing on fracking on March 1, 2011, followed by an activist rally, which will be the first of many demanding that fracking be banned.
Additionally, three New York State congressional representatives have now called upon congress to hold its own hearings on the impacts of fracking.
Please visit the following websites:

Energy Independence--With Environmental Costs [Slide Show]

Natural gas cracked out of shale deposits may mean the U.S. has a stable supply for a century--but at what cost to the environment and human health?
DISH, Tex.—A satellite broadcasting company bought the rights to rename this town a few years ago in exchange for a decade of free television, but it is another industry that dominates the 200 or so residents: natural gas. Five facilities perched on the north Texas town's outskirts compress the gas newly flowing to the surface from the cracked Barnett Shale more than two kilometers beneath the surface, collectively contributing a brew of toxic chemicals to the air.

It is because of places like DISH (formerly known as Clark) and similar sites from Colorado to Wyoming, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new review of the practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". From compressor stations emitting known human carcinogens such as benzene to the poor lining of wells after drilling that has led some water taps to literally spout flames, the full set of activities needed to produce natural gas gives rise to a panoply of potential problems. The EPA study may examine everything from site selection to the ultimate disposal of the fluids used in fracking.
View a slide show of hydraulic fracturing

The picture from DISH is not pretty. A set of seven samples collected throughout thetown analyzed for a variety of air pollutants last August found that benzene was present at levels as much as 55 times higher than allowed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Similarly, xylene and carbon disulfide (neurotoxicants), along with naphthalene (a blood poison) and pyridines (potential carcinogens) all exceeded legal limits, as much as 384 times levels deemed safe. "They're trying to get the pipelines in the ground so fast that they're not doing them properly," says Calvin Tillman, DISH's mayor. "Then you've got nobody looking, so nobody knows if it's going in the ground properly…. You just have an opportunity for disaster here."

DISH sits at the heart of a pipeline network now tuned to exploit a gas drilling boom in the Fort Worth region. The Barnett Shale, a geologic formation more than two kilometers deep and more than 13,000 square kilometers in extent, holds as much as 735 billion cubic meters of natural gas—and the city of Fort Worth alone boasts hundreds of wells, according to Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group. "It's urban drilling, so you literally have drilling rigs that are located next door to subdivisions or shopping malls."
Although the first well was drilled in 1982, it took until 2002 for the boom to really get started. Now there are more than 14,000 wells in the Barnett Shale, thanks to a combination of being able to drill horizontally and fracking—pumping water at high pressure deep beneath the ground to literally crack the rock and release natural gas.

"They pump a mixture of water and sand—and half a percent of that is some chemicals, like lubricants," Ireland explains. "They pump that into the formation at a very high pressure. Cracks it just like a windshield. And the cracks go out a couple hundred feet on either side and that forms the pathway for the natural gas to migrate to the well bore and up to the surface."

All that natural gas may prove a boon to a U.S. bid for energy independence. Plus, burning natural gas to produce electricity releases roughly 40 percent less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than burning coal. So the question is: Can extracting that natural gas be done safely?

Water pollution
As Ireland notes: "There's never been a documented case of contaminated water supply." That is technically true, but residents of Dimock, Pa., may disagree. That town sits atop the Marcellus Shale—a giant natural gas–laden rock formation that stretches from Tennessee to New York State—and the kind of extraction now going on in Texas is just getting started there. In Dimock, leaks from badly cased wells contaminated drinking water wells—and one even exploded.

It all comes down to the fact that fracking involves a lot of water. There's the at least 11.5 million liters involved in fracking a well in the first place. There's the brine and other fluids that can come to the surface with the natural gas. And there's the problem of what to do with all that waste fluid at the end of the day.

In Dimock's case, Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas has spilled fracturing fluid, diesel and other fluids, according to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection. And elsewhere in the state fracturing fluid contamination has been detected in the Monongahela River, which is a source of drinking water. In more common practice, companies dump used fracking fluid back beneath the surface, usually injecting it into other formations beneath the shale. For example, in the case of the Barnett Shale, disposal wells send that water into the deeper Ellenburger Formation.

But there's also the problem of what's actually in the fracking fluid. EPA tests in Wyoming have found suspected fracking fluid chemicals in drinking water wells, and a study by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservationidentified 260 chemicals used in the process—a review undertaken as the state decides whether to allow such drilling on lands comprising the watershed providing New York City with its drinking water. And Dow Chemical notes that it sells biocides—antimicrobial poisons—to be included in the mix. But companies zealously guard the secret of what exactly makes up their individual "special sauce." It is one of the ways the companies distinguish themselves.

Air pollution
In places where required by law, natural gas companies also distinguish themselves by how they filter out air pollutants. "There's [vapor recovery units] that they can put in place to cut out 95 percent of the emissions from a site," Tillman says. "In states where it's been mandated they do it, and they do it willingly—and they do presentations that show how they're going to comply and how their vapor recovery unit is better than the next guy's vapor recovery unit."

That obviously does not happen in DISH, and a big part of such negligence is a lack of appropriate oversight. For example, after it received complaints the TCEQ sent an SUV with a gas detection unit to drive around Dish for a couple of hours. Despite widespread complaints of odor, the commission found "no leaks that would be detectable to the human nose," Tillman says. "So obviously they're trying to deceive us, they're treating us like we're blooming idiots."

As a result, DISH conducted its own air quality test—at a cost of 15 percent of the town's annual budget of $70,000—that revealed the toxic mix of air pollution. Subsequently, the town petitioned and won the right to install one of seven permanent air monitors in the entire state of Texas. "It's not just writing regulations," Tillman notes. "Somebody has to go out and make sure they're following regulations. And when they're not following regulations, the punishments need to be swift and harsh."

That problem is not confined to the TCEQ or the Railroad Commission of Texas, which through a quirk of history regulates the Lone Star State's oil and gas industries. National laws, like the Safe Drinking Water Act, have been specifically amended to exempt hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation. Yet a New York City analysis of fracking has found that whereas a single fractured natural gas well may do no harm, the hundreds required to exploit shale gas "brings an increased level of risk to the water supply." Plus, although fracking occurs deep below freshwater aquifers, natural cracks "serve as conduits that facilitate migration of contaminants, methane or pressurized fluids." [READ THIS AGAIN, FOLKS!!!]

And it's in the air, too. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is now conducting tests on roughly 30 residents of DISH to see what might be the human health impacts of this air pollution exposure. And the TCEQ has found high air pollution levels in other nearby towns, such as Decatur, and at individual residences.

Climate savior?
Nevertheless, a 2004 study by the EPA found hydraulic fracturing harmless and the oil industry has been using a roughly similar extraction method since the 1940s. If shale gas can be extracted safely, it might go a long way to cutting back on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, as acknowledged at the U.N. Copenhagen climate conference this past December by environmentalists such as Christopher Flavin of the Washington, D.C.–based World Resources Institute. "Compared with coal, natural gas allows a 50 to 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "It's a good complement to the wind and solar generators that will be the backbones of a low-carbon electricity system."

Already, the U.S. produces nearly 600 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), and it estimates proved reserves of natural gas of at least 6.7 trillion cubic meters. The Marcellus Shale alone may have at least 10 trillion cubic meters.

A host of companies have moved in to exploit this resource, and a "few hundred" wildcatters operate in the Barnett Shale alone, according to Ireland. "The wildcatters are the small companies, they have a low overhead, and they can afford to go out and take some risks," he says. "That's been the history of the business and I think that will continue." But major companies have also taken an interest; ExxonMobil hopes to buy natural gas producer XTO Energy pending regulatory approval.

That's because natural gas is becoming more and more the fuel of choice for generating electricity; the DoE expects 21 percent of U.S. electricity to be derived from natural gas by 2035, and by 2034 power plant builder and consulting firm Black & Veatch expects almost half of all U.S. electricity to come from burning natural gas. "I don't see gas shales having an insurmountable environmental problem that is expensive to fix," says Mark Griffith, head of Black & Veatch's power market analysis.

And the gaseous fossil fuel is used for everything from home heating to making plastics and fertilizer. "It's good that we've discovered all this natural gas, because we're going to need it to generate electricity," Ireland says. "Twenty years from now, we're still going to need all the natural gas we can get."

Some, such as Texas oil- and gas-millionaire T. Boone Pickens, have even suggested using this new surfeit of natural gas to help wean the U.S. off foreign oil, turning it into vehicle fuel. Of course, compressed natural gas is already the fuel of choice for many metropolitan area bus fleets.

Ultimately, however, shale gas extraction—and the hydraulic fracturing that goes with it—will have to be done right. "If something comes out that you're poisoning the population, it's going to be a very bad thing," Ireland notes.

The EPA anticipates finishing its latest study of the practice by 2012. "Six months ago, nobody knew that facilities like this would be spewing benzene," Tillman notes. "Someone could come in here and look at us and say, 'You know what? They've sacrificed you. You've been sacrificed for the good of the shale.'"

Editor's Note: David Biello is the host of a forthcoming series on PBS, tentatively titled "
The Future of Electricity". The series will explore the coming transformation of how we use and produce electricity, along with its impact on the environment, national security and the economy. He conducted the interviews for this article in conjunction with his work on that series.
Commission Secretary DRBC PO Box 7360 25 State Police Drive West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360

RE: Health Hazards of Released Gases

Dear Commission Secretary,

 I write to make comment about the DRBC Draft Natural Gas Development Regulations. It is well established that fracking liberates large quantities of methane, hydrogen sulfide, and radon.

Methane is an asphyxiant. At levels that can occur in association with natural gas drilling, especially within the confines of area homes, basements, and other walled-structures, asphyxiation by methane is a risk, especially as people sleep. Methane is also highly flammable, placing area residents at risk for fires and explosions.

Radon is a radioactive gas. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the world. Large quantities are regularly released in conjunction with the fracking process. In the Delaware River Basin, exceptionally high amounts are expected to be released.

Hydrogen sulfide is as toxic in many respects as hydrogen cyanide. High levels are commonly released during fracking. Acute inhalation causes olfactory paralysis, coughing, physical collapse, and respiratory failure; coma and death may result. Survivors of even one episode of high concentration inhalation are at increased risk for later development of dementia, hearing and vision problems, ADHD- like symptoms, slow speech, impaired short term memory, and difficulties with body movement and coordination.

Long term exposure to low levels, which ALL area residents will suffer, causes central nervous system toxicity, decreased lung function, anemia, increased risk for life-threatening clot formation, and a known and proven increased risk of death in those with pre-existing cardiovascular problems.

Unlike other US industries, natural gas drilling activities are exempt from the US Clean Air Act, and so gas drilling activities are free to cause these releases without restraint.

The DRBC has failed to adequately address how these gases that represent a serious health hazard will be monitored, and how persons who lose their health to these issues will be cared for or remunerated for healthcare costs.

1)  the drillers must 

be held responsible for alerting residents when releases of methane or hydrogen sulfide or radon are high enough to warrant evacuation

2) be responsible for temporary (or permanent) relocation costs during such evacuations

3) be required to have an independent contractor perform regular AIR monitoring (for methane, hydrogen sulfide, and radon) at the drill site and at multiple locations within a 5 mile radius

4) be required to report, to the DRBC and the public, the methane, hydrogen sulfide, and radon levels detected during the monitoring process

5) be required to permanently cease operations when detection methods identify methane or radon or hydrogen sulfide levels at concentrations high enough to cause serious injury to humans, permanent injury to humans, or death to humans

6) be required to temporarily halt operations, and report the results to the DRBC and the public, when levels of methane, or hydrogen sulfide, or radon are detected to be high enough to cause symptoms, but not necessarily high enough to cause serious human harm, permanent harm, or death

7) be required to remunerate the citizens of the Delaware River Basin for any and all air-quality related health costs the residents will suffer

8) be required to establish a fund in escrow to cover healthcare costs expected to occur in the decades to come (even after the drilling operations cease), since much later long-term effects are expected with the indisputable exposures to hydrogen sulfide and radon that will occur with any area fracking

Thank you for your serious consideration of these matters. 




  1. really??? what body part , radon will destroy??? is natural gas safe too???
    vapor recovery unit

  2. I have a little desk in my basement where I do school work because it is the only quiet place in the house, but now I can't concentrate thinking about a spider running up my leg. Any suggestions?

    phlebotomy schools pennsylvania

  3. Well written but till people put human life's before personnel gain you are wasting you time. The politicians are laughing all the way to the bank once again. 25,000 people plus die every year in USA and nobody really cares. Compare those deaths to the deaths caused by terrorism and guns.