West Virginia landfill bans drilling sludge

May 29, 2014

Marcellus Shale companies that need to eliminate drilling sludge won’t be heading to the mountain state – at least not to Bridgeport.

West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection cracked down on out-of-state waste disposals after sludge containing low levels of radiation were trucked to a Waste Management landfill in Bridgeport from a Smith Township well pad Tuesday.

Although the waste was eliminated, the DEP barred Meadowfill landfill from accepting drilling sludge until it determines why the sludge was rejected from Arden Landfill in Chartiers. The agency also requested a radiation survey of the area where the waste was disposed.

Two loads of sludge from the Malinky well pad, owned by Range Resources, were found to have “above background” radiation levels when they were brought to the Arden landfill, also operated by Waste Management.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the sludge contained 212 microrems of radiation, a low level that would not affect workers at the site or nearby residents.

Lisa Kardell, spokeswoman for Waste Management, said the results of the company’s survey did not indicate any environmental impact from the sludge.

“Current (West Virginia) regulations do not require radiation monitors to scan incoming wastes for naturally occurring radioactive materials,” Kardell said in an email. “Legislation was passed in 2014 requiring radiation monitors to be installed by January 1, 2015, in (West Virginia) for enhanced monitoring.”

It’s not uncommon for a low level of radiation to be detected in hydraulic fracturing byproducts. A similar situation occurred earlier this month at a wastewater impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township when about 20 inches of water and four inches of sludge tested for “above background” radiation levels. That sludge, which preliminary test results showed had 350 microrems, will continue to be stored on-site in a roll-off box until “characterization” test results are produced.

Poister said landfills need to have permits in order to accept radioactive materials. Those landfills also need to have ample space to bury the waste in order to avoid contamination.

Arden landfill, a “fastidious” facility, may reject waste for a number of reasons, Poister said.

“Arden is, in some respects, very cautious, and we applaud that,” Poister said, adding that the DEP is notified any time Arden receives a load with levels of radiation.

Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources, said Meadowfill’s ban on out-of-state radioactive waste will not impact Range’s operations. Travis Windle, a Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman, said the rejection of radioactive materials from Arden shows state regulations are strong.

“Drill cuttings, which may have very low levels of radioactivity much like other industrial materials, are typically disposed of at state-permitted sites in proximity to source operations,” Windle said in an email. “In this case, it was shown once again that the system worked as designed, reflecting these strong regulations.”

Naturally occurring radioactive material is contained in rock formations and can be released through the drilling process in drill cuttings and flowback water. The DEP said current data does not indicate any health risks, but the agency has undertaken a comprehensive study to examine the radiation levels.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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