By Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates
January 10, 2012
A significant public health hazard associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation must be seriously investigated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). This hazard is from radioactive radon gas and the potential for large numbers of lung cancer among natural gas customers. This issue, which has been ignored in the DEC’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, must be addressed in a revised Impact Statement and before DEC issues any drilling permits.
Unlike present sources for natural gas, located in Texas and Louisiana, the Marcellus Shale is considerably closer to New York consumers. In addition, the radioactive levels at the wellheads in New York are higher than the national average for natural gas wells throughout the US.
In this paper Radioactive Waste Management Associates calculates the wellhead concentrations of radon in natural gas from Marcellus Shale, the time to transit to consumers, particularly New York City residents, and the potential health effects of releasing radon, especially in the smaller living quarters found in urban areas.
It is well known that radon (radon-222) is present in natural gas.1 Published reports by R
H Johnson of the US Environmental Protection Agency2 and C V Gogolak of the US
Department of Energy3 also address this issue. Radon is present in natural gas from Marcellus Shale at much higher concentrations than natural gas from wells in Louisiana and Texas.
Since radon is a decay product of radium-226, to calculate radon levels it is necessary to know the concentrations of radium-226, Based on a USGS study4 and gamma ray logs (also known as GAPI logs) that we have examined, the radium concentrations in the
* Great appreciation for the excellent assistance of Minard Hamilton, RWMA Associate
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,Toxicological Profile for Ionizing Radiation and
U.S. National Research Council, Health, Risks of Radon and Other Internally Deposited Alpha-Emitters: BEIR IV (National Academy Press, 1988)
2 Johnson,R.H. et al, “Assessment of Potential Radiological Health Effects from Radon in Natural Gas,” Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-520-73-004, November 1973.
Gogolak, C.V., “Review of 222 Rn in Natural Gas Produced from Unconventional Sources,” Department of Energy, DOE/EML-385, November 1980
J.S. Leventhal, J.G. Crock, and M.J. Malcolm, Geochemistry of trace elements in Devonian shales of the Appalachian Basin, U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 81-778, 1981
Marcellus Shale is 8 to 32 times background. This compares to an average radium-226 in surface soil in New York State of 0.81 picoCuries per gram (pCi/g)1
Using this range of radium concentrations and a simple Fortran program that simulates the production of radon in the well bore, and transit to the wellhead, we calculate a range of radon concentrations at the wellhead between 36.9 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) to 2576 pCi/L.
These wellhead concentrations in Marcellus shale are up to 70 times the average in natural gas wells throughout the U.S. The average was calculated by R.H.Johnson of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1973 (pre-fracking) to be 37 pCi/L6 to a maximum of 1450 pCi/L.
In addition, the distance to New York State apartments and homes from the Marcellus formation is 400 miles and sometimes less. This contrasts with the distance from the Gulf Coast and other formations which is 1800 miles. At 10 mph movement in the pipeline, natural gas containing the radioactive gas, radon, which has a half-life of 3.8 days, will have three times the radon concentrations than natural gas originating at the Gulf Coast., everything else being equal, which it is not..
Being an inert gas, radon will not be destroyed when natural gas is burned in a kitchen stove.
We have examined published dilution factors and factored in numbers for average urban apartments where the dilution factor and the number of air exchanges per hour are less than those of non-urban dwellings. This analysis implies that the radon concentrations in New York City and urban apartments is greater than the national average.
We assume a figure of 11.9 million residents affected. This figure is calculated in the following manner: Based on US Department of Energy figures our calculations assume 4.4 million gas stoves in New York State. This figure is multiplied by 2.69 persons per household to determine the number of residents affected: this number equals 11.9 million.
We calculate the number of excess lung cancer deaths for New York State. Our results: the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448.
This is an additional number of lung cancer deaths due to radon from Marcellus Shale over deaths from natural radon already impacting New York State homes and their residents.
The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement produced by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation needs to be revised to take into account this public health and environmental hazard. In the entire 1400 page statement there is only one sentence containing the word “radon” and no consideration of this significant public health hazard.
Further, NYDEC needs to independently calculate and measure radon at the wellhead from the Marcellus Shale formation in presently operating wells before issuing drilling permits in New York State. The present RDSGEIS should be withdrawn.