Drilling sludge to be shipped to Michigan

August 12, 2014
Waste materials containing levels of radiation at an impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township were divided and transferred from a blue roll-off box into two green boxes to be shipped to Michigan for disposal. - Photo courtesy of Kimberly Staub

Two roll-off boxes holding waste with detectable levels of radiation at a Marcellus Shale impoundment in Mt. Pleasant Township will soon be trucked to Michigan for disposal.

Range Resources, which operates the Carter impoundment on Fort Cherry Road, initially detected “above-background” levels of radiation in about 20 inches of water and four inches of sludge in May. Those materials were found when a contractor cleaned out the impoundment’s weir tank, which allows solids to settle as water flows into the impoundment.

John Poister, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the material is being shipped to Michigan because local landfills will not accept such a large quantity of materials containing radiation.

“Many landfills can only take a small amount of material at a time,” Poister said. “This is a great deal of material, and that’s the reason it has to be shipped out of state.”

However, he said the levels of radiation are not particularly high, although they are considered above the background amount for naturally occurring radiation, which can be released from rock formations during the fracking process.

Initially, hand-held devices detected 350 micro-rems per hour of radiation inside the roll-off box, which Poister said posed no health risk to nearby residents. More extensive characterization tests showed lower radiation levels between 40 and 260 micro-rems per hour.

“It’s not a constant number because there are different areas that they test,” Poister said.

According to Poister, Range divided the sludge and water and placed it into two separate containers, because the first roll-off box would have been too heavy to transport. He said Range then washed out the box originally holding the materials and added that wastewater to the two containers headed to the landfill.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the company hopes to transport the materials by next week.

Poister confirmed the DEP was notified of one resident complaint about a chemical odor coming from the impoundment on Friday. He said the department responded by sending an oil and gas inspector to the site, who detected “a strong odor” that quickly dissipated.

“He believes that the odor came from the box, and the caller (who) complained may have smelled this odor as they were preparing to begin the transfer of material from the large box to the small box,” Poister said.

“I’m sure for somebody who was living nearby, it would be, certainly, an annoyance,” he said, but he added that the DEP did not feel it was a major concern.

Kimberly Staub, whose farm is about 815 feet from the impoundment, said she was on vacation when this happened, but she is concerned about the transfer of those materials.

She questioned why a sticker that said “radiation” was removed from the original roll-off box holding the materials. She also said it seemed like the new containers were not properly labeled.

“It’s just kind of alarming,” Staub said. “It’s still radioactive. It has not been cleaned. So now they’re going to ship it?”

Poister said those boxes only need to be labeled during transport in accordance with federal Department of Transportation guidelines.

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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