A legitimate radiation concern for citizens: naturally radioactive brine from oil and gas wells and fracking

Rolling Stone has an important recent article by Justin Nobel [https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/oil-gas-fracking-radioactive-investigation-937389/ ] tracking recent attention focussed on radiation risks to workers who haul brine. He notes,

“Radium, typically the most abundant radionuclide in brine, is often measured in picocuries per liter of substance and is so dangerous it’s subject to tight restrictions even at hazardous-waste sites. The most common isotopes are radium-226 and radium-228, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires industrial discharges to remain below 60 for each. Four of Peter’s samples registered combined radium levels above 3,500, and one was more than 8,500.”

For reference: you are urged to mitigate basement radon levels of 4 pCi/liter or above. The issue is inhalation or ingestion since these isotopes emit very short-range alpha particles.

The people most at risk are those working on such wells, but the dumping of brine or its use on roads can expose a more general population. Because this radioactivity occurs naturally there is at present apparently little federal oversight or regulation of this source of exposure. Brine, for instance, is regarded as TENORM, Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material

[EPA: “Naturally occurring radioactive materials that have been concentrated or exposed to the accessible environment as a result of human activities such as manufacturing, mineral extraction, or water processing.”]

An article Nobel references, Elizabeth Ann Glass Geltman and Nichole LeClair, Regulation of radioactive fracking waste, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, Vol .19 (2017-2018), pp 1-63, states

“Colorado is developing final guidance pertaining to the disposal of TENORM waste that may be applicable to oil and gas operations. The proposed standards would restrict the disposal of Ra-226 and Ra-228 in excess of 3 pCi/g in municipal solid waste landfills and 50 pCi/g in industrial landfills. Guidance was originally meant to address TENORM generated from the treatment of drinking water; thus, the guidance may loosely apply to TENORM generated during oil and gas operations. Regardless, the guidance outlines various disposal options as well as worker and public protections—serving as a basis for the development of protections.”

Take a look at


I was unable to download the Final TENORM report.

A reminder: NIST measurements of Rocky Flats soil show levels of 239+240Pu around 0.5 pCi/g; around Candelas levels are 0.08-0.2 pCi/g. Natural soil levels of 228Ra [226 Ra] are about 2 pCi/g [1.1 pCi/g]: see https://rockyflatsneighbors.org/wp-content/uploads/NatSoilRad.pdf

As long as anti-Refugees focus on minute quantities of man-made radioisotopes they will miss the big picture.

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