Are the Shale Cuttings Being Dumped at the Chemung County Landfill Radioactive?

Part of the process of drilling a well includes disposing of the material that comes out of the well, including “cuttings” and mud—i.e., leftover dirt and rock. A “controversy” is brewing in Chemung County, NY where the county landfill is accepting cuttings from drillers over the border in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale. The problem? Sometimes shale cuttings have elevated levels of radioactivity. Those opposed to drilling are playing on people’s fear of the word “radioactive” hoping it will shut down the shipments of shale cuttings to the landfill. (Those shipments, by the way, are generating a nice revenue stream for Chemung County.)

Anyone living in New York’s Southern Tier or Northeast Pennsylvania knows when buying a house you have the basement tested for radon—a naturally occurring radioactive gas that exists in high concentrations in some (not all) locations. Radon comes from the ground. Far below the ground radon gas exists, but also radium and even uranium. Radon and radium are both isotopes of decaying uranium. When you drill one to two miles under the earth, the cuttings that come out may have high concentrations of radioactivity (mostly radium). It’s not a good idea to dump highly radioactive material, naturally occurring or not, in a landfill. No argument on that count. But! What is a “high concentration?” Can it be treated if it is high? And, do cuttings usually have high radioactivity as a general rule?

There is an easy answer here. Determine what levels are safe, and then test incoming loads of cuttings to be sure they don’t violate that standard. That’s just what Chemung County is in the process of doing. The system works—no one wants a health hazard for current and future generations.

Read about the cuttings “controversy” here: Elmira Star Gazette (Mar 31) – Questions raised as landfill seeks to increase intake of Marcellus drilling waste

Will Gov. Paterson’s Political Troubles Delay Drilling in New York State Until 2011?

Bloomberg, a left-leaning (anti-drilling) news organization published a story about the seemingly eternal question of “When will drilling begin in New York?” with reasoning that goes like this:

(A) New York Gov. Paterson is more or less pro-drilling and wants to see it start soon.

(B) Gov. Paterson has run into political troubles, “probes” of his conduct are ongoing, so he’s decided not to run for re-election. He’s damaged goods.

(C) The Department of Environmental Conservation, fearing political turmoil and upheaval, and perhaps reprisals, will not go forward with drilling until after the election in November (at the earliest).

The Bloomberg article gives some background details about drilling in New York State for those who are new to the debate—all of it with an anti-drilling flavor. But some good background details nonetheless. May be worth a read if you’re so inclined:

Bloomberg (Mar 31) – Gas Drillers’ New York Hopes Fade on Paterson Woes

Six Short-Line Railroads in Central PA Report Business is Up 40 Percent Because of Marcellus Drilling

MDN previously reported on two short-line railroads that have seen their prospects dramatically improve with Marcellus drilling activity in Pennsylvania—the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad and the Reading & Northern Railroad. You can now add six more short-lines to the list—all of them owned by the North Shore Railroad Company.

A system of six railroads in northcentral Pennsylvania, including the Lycoming Valley Railroad Co., is enjoying a 40 percent increase in business over last year’s first quarter, said chairman and CEO Richard Robey.

“We have seen a substantial increase in business related to the Marcellus Shale gas well drilling,” Robey said Wednesday.

Before that, the recession had sliced the railroads’ business by nearly 20 percent, as it hauled fewer loads of iron and steel products and scrap, food stuffs and plastics to manufacturers, he said.*

Once again the main product being hauled is sand, which is mixed with water and chemicals and injected into well bores as part of the process to free trapped natural gas from the shale.

*Charleston Daily Mail (Mar 31) – Railroads booming with Marcellus Shale business