Co. explains testing of fracking byproducts for radioactivity to Youngstown residents
By Kalea Hall
A presentation by Austin Master Services at Youngstown City Hall on Wednesday clarified the process the company is taking in testing radioactivity in materials that come out of the Earth through hydraulic fracturing.
Pete Collopy, radiation safety officer, and Pat Horkman, regional manager, explained the the use of an expedited analytical process to tell the oil and gas industry the levels of radium 226 and radium 228 in Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or TENORM.
This can include materials such as drilling muds or fracking flowback and production water sludge.
“I do feel a little better coming from the company’s point of view, but not from a regulatory” perspective, said Susie Beiersdorfer, a geologist and a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley — an organization that raised concerns over the company’s presence in Youngstown.
Pennsylvania-based Austin Master Services operates the testing on Sinter Court in the city. It has done so since the company received a license from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in early February to test the radioactivity in material that comes directly off the well pad from either the Utica or Marcellus shale plays in Ohio or Pennsylvania.
The company takes photographic images of a container brought in by the oil and gas companies and use an In-Situ Gamma Spectroscopy device to test the material.
“We do our own identification of what is in the box with this,” Collopy said. “We are relatively confident in our numbers.”
In Ohio, the state department of health allows for 5 picocuries per gram above natural background for a solid-waste landfill.
Given that, Austin Master Services does not want to send any material above 6.99 picocuries per gram on its measuring tool to the landfill.
Within minutes of testing, Horkman said the results come in and are given to the landfill for an OK. The company representatives said other testing previously used could take 21 days to test a sample of the material at a lab.
“We have a subject-matter expert who reviews the data,” Horkman said.
So far the company has tested only seven containers in the little more than five months of coming to Youngstown, which is a number they thought would be higher. They have not tested any material above 6.99 picocuries per gram.
“What is going on now is there is not a lot of oil and gas production this far north,” Horkman said. “We are looking at doing this down at the hot sweet spot.”
One of those hot sweet spots could be Carroll County, but beyond that the company wants to be at landfills using the process to test there.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said the meeting was positive, and the company was open, candid and honest with the information.
“This is my neighborhood,” Ray said. “We have had earthquakes and dumping in the Mahoning River so people were concerned. It was exciting to see the level of communication [here].”