Accumulation of radium in sediments from continued disposal of produced water and hydraulic fracturing flowback water

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Nathaniel R Warner1, Emma C Menio1, Joshua D Landis1, Avner Vengosh2, Nancy Lauer2, Jennifer Harkness2 and Andrew Kondash2, (1)Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, United States, (2)Duke University, Durham, NC, United States
Recent public interest in high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) has drawn increased interest in wastewater management practices by the public, researchers, industry, and regulators. The management of wastes, including both fluids and solids, poses many engineering challenges, including elevated total dissolved solids and elevated activities of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). One management option for wastewater in particular, which is used in western Pennsylvania, USA, is treatment at centralized waste treatment facilities [1]. Previous studies conducted from 2010-2012 indicated that one centralized facility, the Josephine Brine Treatment facility, removed the majority of radium from produced water and hydraulic fracturing flowback fluid (HFFF) during treatment, but low activities of radium remained in treated effluent and were discharged to surface water [2]. Despite the treatment process and radium reduction, high activities (200 times higher than upstream/background) accumulated in stream sediments at the point of effluent discharge. Here we present new results from sampling conducted at two additional centralized waste treatment facilities (Franklin Brine Treatment and Hart Brine Treatment facilities) and Josephine Brine Treatment facility conducted in June 2014. Preliminary results indicate radium is released to surface water at very low (<50 pCi/L) to non-detectable activities, however; radium continues to accumulate in sediments surrounding the area of effluent release. Combined, the data indicate that 1) radium continues to be released to surface water streams in western Pennsylvania despite oil and gas operators voluntary ban on treatment and disposal of HFFF in centralized waste treatment facilities, 2) radium accumulation in sediments occurred at multiple brine treatment facilities and is not isolated to a single accidental release of contaminants or a single facility.

[1] Wilson, J. M. and J. M. VanBriesen (2012). "Oil and Gas Produced Water Management and Surface Drinking Water Sources in Pennsylvania." Environmental Practice 14(04): 288-300.

[2] Warner, N. R., C. A. Christie, R. B. Jackson and A. Vengosh (2013). "Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania." ES&T 47(20): 11849–11857.