In the preceding In-Sights article, a comment by Mike Sheehan mentioned two million pounds of radioactive waste from oil and gas drilling being shipped 1,600 km from North Dakota to be illegally dumped in Oregon.
It is a subject that deserves further examination in British Columbia.
Visiting the website of BC Oil and Gas Commission, the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing oil, gas and renewable geothermal operations, I found little information.
Inputting the search term “radioactive” returned a question “Did you mean inactive?” That suggested I would find little about radioactivity at BCOGC.
In one six-year old paper, I found this:
…some incidents may not meet the criteria outlined in the Incident Classification Matrix but still require notification to the Commission as a minor notification.
These include the following:
Spills or release of hazardous substances which are not provincially regulated, such as radioactive substances…
Radioactive tracers are used by the oil and gas industry but oil and gas deposits also contain Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM).
The United States Environmental Protection Agency offers further explanation:
Radionuclides are found naturally in almost all soils, rocks, surface water and groundwater. Bringing natural resources from below the surface to above the ground also brings up materials that naturally contain radionuclides. These naturally radioactive materials are called TENORM.
Radionuclides commonly found in TENORM are radium, radon, uranium, potassium and thorium. The level of radioactivity in TENORM can vary widely.
TENORM can be found in solids, liquids, sludges and/or gases. It’s possible for TENORM to come from different parts of the oil and gas extraction processes.
Parts that may contain radioactivity include:
- Drill cuttings,
- Flowback and produced water,
- Pipe scale,
- Sludges, sediments and filters.
Wastes generated from oil and gas drilling must be properly managed to keep the radionuclides in these wastes from spreading to surrounding areas.
Professor Khalid ALNabhani, an expert in risk assessment in the oil and gas industry wrote:
In all, 30 years worth of research has shown that there is inadequate awareness in the oil and gas industry worldwide about the issue of worker protection from TENORM, and about the proper disposal of radioactive wastes into the environment.
According to the available data, the scientists and experts fear that critical clusters in the workforce of the oil and gas industry, as well as the general public, are at risk of being exposed to different levels of radiation doses; these doses range from low to extremely high levels of radiation under adverse conditions.
Such doses often exceed the currently acceptable occupational exposure limits for workers exposed to these materials.
However, according to the medical epidemiological and laboratory data, even low doses of exposure can pose the same threat as that of high doses exposure to radiation and eventually increase the chance of developing cancerous diseases.
We already knew the oil and gas business was poisoning land and water and polluting the atmosphere. Most, including workers in the northeast gas fields, are probably unaware that people are being exposed to radioactivity as well.