Fracking’s Radioactive Garbage

Truthout ( recently published a long article about radioactive waste produced by fracking contaminating the soil and the water in North Dakota. The article ( is very much worth reading. Below are a few excerpts:

Larry Novak’s family has lived in western North Dakota since his great grandfather Anton Novak homesteaded in the region over one hundred years ago. . . .

In January of 2016, Novak found out that the “special” waste landfill — which is what the state of North Dakota calls landfills that are permitted to accept oil field waste — just six miles north of his ranch applied to receive a permit from the state to accept oil field waste that had higher levels of radioactivity. That landfill, known as the IHD waste disposal plant, sits in the middle of a miles-wide oxbow of the meandering Missouri River. A pile of dirt, 10 stories high, overlooks the wide-open spaces of the prairie, and underneath is waste from the oil fields.

“The landfill operator and the health agency tell us that this is as safe as having banana peels in the landfill. That it is just as safe as having granite counter tops in your house,” Novak said. “That insulted my intelligence.” . . .

However, Robert Moran, Ph.D., a hydrologist and geochemist who has examined the new North Dakota TENORM regulations for the Dakota Resources Council takes issue with this assessment. . . .


“People who live near the IHD landfill in western North Dakota gather in Bismarck to ask the North Dakota Health Council not to increase radiation limits for oil field waste in landfills. (Photo: Dakota Resource Council)”

When Truthout asked Moran what he thought of the radioactive oil waste being compared to banana peels and granite counter tops by the health department, he laughed.

“They are completely disregarding the form of radioactivity,” he said. “What kind of radioactivity are we talking about and what pathways are we talking about? How is it transmitted to humans? It is a simple-minded way of diverting the public.”

There’s much more detail to the story of how drilling companies in North Dakota are disposing of radioactive fracking waste. There are two points of significance to Michigan. One is that, if we allow fracking to continue and increase in Michigan, this is exactly what we can expect to happen here. The second is, dumping of radioactive fracking waste is already happening here. The waste has been coming from Pennsylvania and other states which have tighter standards than Michigan on how much radioactivity is allowable in ordinary landfills.

This was detailed in an article by Ed McArdle in the December, 2015 issue of The Activist (SEMG’s newsletter). The text from that article is reproduced below:

By Ed McArdle, SEMG Ex-Com and Conservation Committee Co-Chair

The trucks keep coming from the Marcellus Shale fracking wells to Michigan processing sites and landfills. In the last issue of the Activist (July) we described the dangers of the fracking waste and the reasons it is coming to our state – namely the absence of federal regulations on top of weak Michigan regulations.

Besides the toxic and hazardous aspects of this oil and gas drilling waste, the impacts on human health and the environment are many. The main isotope of concern is Radium-226 — a bone-seeking isotope linked to leukemia, bone cancer and kidney damage. RA-226 has a half-life of 16,000 years and is water soluble: it will remain dangerous for 16,000 years. RA-226 further decays into numerous other troubling elements such as Radon gas, Lead-210 and Polonium. Is there a landfill that could last 16,000 years?

On October 10, the Detroit Free Press featured a front-page story on the 10-fold expansion of the U.S.Ecology hazardous waste processing site in Detroit. This plant is also the address for frack waste shipments from Pennsylvania. (We know it is coming from Pennsylvania because these shipments are listed according to destination on that state’s government website. It is likely to also be coming from other fracking states.)

Thanks to Rep. Rose Mary Robinson, (D) District 4, we belatedly found out that there had been a public hearing last August 28. But because of the Free Press article and some good, detailed last minute comments from
Atty. Terry Lodge, LouAnne Kozma of Ban Fracking In Michigan and the International Law Clinic at Wayne State, the DEQ extended the comment deadline to Oct. 12. The Michigan Chapter Sierra Club signed on with other groups to the comments from the WSU law clinic. The Southeast Michigan Group for the Michigan Chapter submitted additional comments before the Oct. 12 deadline.

Besides protesting the lack of attention given to radiological and toxic frack waste in the permit (which carried no mention of it), we called attention to, and questioned, the fact that this kind of dangerous facility, operating in a populated city, flies in the face of environmental justice principles by adding more challenges and increasing noxious impacts on minority and low-income groups.

We believe that the expansion is for fracking waste to be down-blended with industrial waste products from high levels of radiation to the 50 picocuries/gram under the Michigan regulation. And why is it not mentioned in the permit? Is it because oil and gas field waste is exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act, the Clean Water Act, and some requirements of Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act (RCRA) and Clean Air Act. The DEQ does not even consider this as hazardous waste.

On October 3, the morning before the March for Justice in Detroit, about 50 folks from Sierra Club, Ban Fracking In Michigan, and Beyond Nuclear, plus campaigners for Sen. Bernie Sanders, turned out for a demonstration at the entrance to U.S. Ecology plant site at 6050 Georgia St. in Hamtramck.

Information from a SEMG FOIA request revealed that from March 3 to September 3 a total of 24 shipments also went to the U.S. Ecology landfill in Van Buren Twp. (it can be seen from I-94 near Belleville). These shipments were determined to be hundreds — some over one-thousand — pico-curies for further down-blending. Moreover, a letter dated May 18 from the DEQ approves the transfer of radioactive materials from the U.S. Ecology site in Detroit to the company’s landfill and down blending site in Van Buren Twp.

Other documents showed a total of 120 shipments to the Northern A-1 landfill in Manton, located in Wexford County. These shipments were all under 50 Pc/g for RA-226, but the total radioactivity for many of the isotopes were in the hundreds of pico curies. Many of these shipments came directly from the well pads in Pennsylvania.

Michigan citizens deserve more answers. If the DEQ refuses the many requests for another public hearing, we should demand that our legislators host a town hall meeting to clear the air. Since Michigan is at the center of the Great Lakes, we cannot stop until fracking is banned and so is its disposal.


Author: Art Myatt

Retired engineer and environmentally aware activist with Green Party of Michigan, Sierra Club and Alliance to Halt Fermi 3.

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