NRDC Report: Fracking’s Radioactive Problem

WASHINGTON – Weak federal and state oversight of radioactive waste from oil and gas production has left workers, the public and drinking water supplies at risk, a new NRDC report shows.

While the risks have been clear for decades, the boom in fracking in recent years has increased the threats to public health and the environment. Every year billions of gallons of produced water and tons of underground rock and sand can bring long-buried radioactive elements to the surface.

The report, A Hot Fracking Mess: How the Lack of Regulation of Oil and Gas Production Leads to Radioactive Waste in our Water, Air and Communities, from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) details how the lack of clear federal protections can leave workers and residents exposed to radiation from fracking brine spread on roadways, wastewater sent to municipal water plants, or contaminated solid waste shipped to landfills.

The report details the science behind radioactive elements related to oil and gas production and notes the need for government involvement to determine the full extent of the problem.

“For decades the oil and gas industry has gotten away with producing dangerous radioactive waste, posing an unacceptable risk to workers and nearby residents,” said Bemnet Alemayehu, a staff scientist at NRDC and co-author of the report. “Given the risk of cancer from radioactive waste, we need strong standards today.”

The report also examined regulations in 12 states with large oil and gas operations. Not one of those states has standards in each area that’s crucial to protect public health. Some states with massive oil and gas industries – such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oklahoma – lack even the most basic regulations.

“States aren’t providing the protections workers and the public need given the profound threat of this waste,” said Amy Mall, a senior advocate at NRDC and a co-author of the report. “Given the spotty state rules, we need the federal government to close the gaps for oil and gas waste and impose clear health protections.”

The 12 states surveyed were: Alaska, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

For more on this issue, please see these blogs: one from Amy Mall and one from Bemnet Alemayehu

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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