Award winning reporter, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, alerts us that some of the most toxic substances on earth are produced along with natural gas in the Barnett Shale in her Dallas Morning News article: Radioactive waste surfaces at Texas gas sites
Blasted free by millions of gallons of fresh water and chemical soup sent miles below ground, some of earth’s baddest geological actors – radioactive elements capable of scarring soil and scourging human health – are slowly rising to the surface along with the Barnett Shale’s natural gas.
The radioactive elements produced are called Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or NORM.
Texans have a protector called the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). Their Mission Statement tells the ways they use our tax dollars to protect us:
We serve Texas by:
* Our stewardship of natural resources and the environment
* Our concern for personal and community safety
* Our support of enhanced development and economic vitality for the benefit of Texans
Only, as it turns out, they really don’t do much to protect Texans. If you look at Frequently Asked Questions about Oil and Gas NORM Regulation on the RRC website you will see that they actually have a “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy” when it comes to radioactive waste.
4. Do regulations require NORM surveys of oil and gas facilities or equipment?
No, neither DSHS’s §289.259 nor RRC’s Subchapter F specifically require NORM surveys; however, operator are required to identify NORM-contaminated equipment with tags or markings. A NORM survey is necessary to make that determination.
If we look at RRC’s Subchapter F, §4.605 Identification of Equipment Contaminated with NORM, we learn that, once again, the operator is in charge of regulating themselves. And, because proper handling of radioactive is expensive, there is little incentive for operators to discover contamination. Who guards the hen house? Why the fox, of course.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, within two years of the effective date of this rule, each person who owns or operates equipment used for production or disposal including each person who owns or operates equipment associated with a commercial facility, as defined in §3.78 (relating to Fees and Financial Security Requirements), shall identify NORM-contaminated equipment with the letters “NORM” by securely attaching a clearly visible waterproof tag or marking with a legible waterproof paint or ink. Employers whose employees speak languages other than English may add to the tag the translation of the acronym “NORM” in those languages as long as the acronym “NORM” is also on the tag.
The public actually receives little protection from the agency we fund. The same industries that need regulation contribute heavily to the Railroad Commissioners and, in turn, they seem to receive more protection than the public. The answer to the question: Will the Railroad Commission put the public first? seems to be a loud and clear, “NO!” That answer was changed recently ONLY because Brett Shipp, WFAA, shined a bright light on the RRC malpractice and shamed them into taking action.
Citizens emailed, called and spoke personally with Senator Criag Estes requesting an investigation into RRC malpractice (see link for additional examples of malpractice) but, so far, no word from Senator Estes.
Regulation of radioactive waste is another area where the RRC is negligent with their rules that allow the industry to self monitor. From Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe’s DMN article:
Texas Railroad Commission rules allow the industry to self-monitor for NORM, and many operators are slow to decontaminate the radioactive residue because of the cost, industry insiders say. Furthermore, only two of nearly 200 operators registered with the commission in the Barnett’s core counties – Key Energy Services and Devon Energy – have provided for such decontamination in the past two years.
While the long, slow, painful deaths from exposure to drilling toxins may not be as dramatic as the deaths from gas coupling explosions, Texas lives are still at risk.
Radium-226 and radium-228 are the two most common elements to travel up gas and oil wells. Both emit alpha particles and gamma radiation as they decay. Radon gas, the second-leading cause of lung cancer, is emitted as they decay.
Who, if not the regulating agency we fund or the elected officials on the Natural Resources Committee that we fund, can Texans turn to for protection?