Will radioactive waste be the next challenge or opportunity?


« Shale Sheet Fracking

by Mike Costarella   | 17 entries

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Currently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is performing tests for levels of radio- activity found in oil and natural-gas drilling waste.

It appears radiation detectors have been warning of unsafe levels at landfills throughout the state.

The number of garbage trucks setting off radiation monitors has had a five-fold increase between 2009 and 2012.

Ohio does not test for radioactivity in drilling waste. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget plan includes a measure that requires oil and gas companies to conduct radioactivity tests on the tons of waste, rock, dirt and drilling lubricants produced at drilling sites before the wastes are dumped in Ohio landfills.

There is some radioactivity testing being done voluntarily by the industry today.

In fact, in May, two truckloads of Pennsylvania drilling waste were turned away from the American Landfill in Stark County because lab tests resulted in high levels of radium.

Ohio bans landfills from receiving drilling waste if the amount of radioactivity exceeds a state-set safety limit.

The two truckloads of waste sand rejected by American Landfill had radium at levels 36 times above the limit.

Waste exceeding the radiation standard still could be dumped in landfills if it is mixed with other waste to reduce the overall radiation level.

The chief of the local health department and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency would have to approve the mixing plan before the waste could be dumped in an Ohio landfill.

Now that radioactivity is observed to be naturally occurring in the Marcellus Shale region, this will become a new regulatory challenge for the industry.

However, this could become a new opportunity for an even less universally welcomed industry, the uranium fracking industry.

That’s right. I said it. In the same energy nonindependent manner, the United States currently imports a large portion of its yearly uranium from foreign sources similar to oil.

In fact, the need for uranium in the U.S. will increase greatly within the next year.

The country has been importing more than 25 percent of its uranium needs from Russia.

This practice was a result of Russia’s disarmament of its plethora of old nuclear warheads.

The U.S. and Russia made an agreement that Russia would supply uranium to the U.S. until 2013.

At the end of this year, this agreement will end. Also, China and India are importing much more uranium than they have in the past. The price of uranium yellowcake has dropped to $40 per pound, but it is still valuable worldwide.

Enter Uranium Energy Corp. A junior mining company with Canadian roots, UEC is developing the newest uranium mine in the U.S. It’s counting on fracking to do it.

UEC is operating in the heart of fracking country, south Texas’ Eagle Ford shale formation. When it comes to fracking for yellowcake, even more pressing than shaky economics is the obvious potential for environmental contamination.

The process is not only extremely water intensive, as is fracking for oil and gas, but it’s also happening at a shallow depth.

Unlike the Eagle Ford’s oil and gas reserves, which are miles underground, the uranium mining is taking place at the same level as local groundwater supplies.

In the words of a local politician that shall remain nameless here, “If there was this much resistance over oil and natural-gas fracking here in the Mahoning Valley, I can’t imagine the resistance that will take place if [uranium mining] ever occurs.”

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