Ohio budget bill may regulate radioactive oil and gas waste - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Ohio budget bill may regulate radioactive oil and gas waste

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The classification of drill cuttings from shale formations is a point of controversy in the budget bill now under consideration by the Ohio Senate.

The draft bill would classify drill cuttings as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or NORM, exempting them from testing for radioactivity and allowing cuttings to be left on site or disposed of in regular municipal solid waste landfills.

Some opponents want drill cuttings classified instead as Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or TENORM, which would subject them testing for radioactivity.

TENORM is NORM that has been brought to the surface and concentrated by human activity.

Under TENORM classification, cuttings exceeding a regulatory threshold of 5 picocuries per gram of material — a measure of the share of the material that is radioactive — could be subject, with drilling mud and some other oil and gas wastes, to special requirements for disposal, although the bill would allow mixing with materials such as soil or sawdust to reduce the concentration below the threshold.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines materials with 5 to 10,000 picocuries of radioactive material per gram as low-level radioactive waste, subject to disposal in landfills engineered to contain the radioactivity.

Studies have found levels of radium-226 and other radionuclides falling in this range in wastes from development of shale oil and gas, with notable amounts in wastes from the Marcellus Shale.

But measurement of the levels of radioactivity in oil and gas industry wastes, including measurement of worker exposure and of releases to the environment, is still in the early stages of consideration by state and federal regulators.

The Ohio measure was included in the budget bill proposed earlier this year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The state House of Representatives removed the oil and gas provisions for separate consideration, but the Senate so far has left them in the bill.

"The guys on the drilling sites are the unwitting guinea pigs here in this uncontrolled experiment," said Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council. OEC is arguing, along with the Ohio Sierra Club, that the measure should be removed from the budget bill so it may be considered separately, or that, if it is retained, that drill cuttings should be defined more conservatively as TENORM.

Radium and uranium are water-soluble, the groups also argue. If disposed of in regular landfills, they will flow into the leachate and be sent to wastewater treatment plants, which will release them into waterways.

West Virginia has no law specifically dictating the treatment of drilling wastes. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection told The State Journal in 2012 that it has since 2009 defined drill cuttings and drilling mud as "special wastes" that subject landfills accepting the wastes to additional permitting conditions, including bimonthly testing of leachate for parameters including radionuclides.

The Ohio budget bill goes to conference committee on June 18 and must be signed by Kasich by June 30.