“All oil-field workers are radiation workers.”
That quote comes from a blockbuster investigation by Justin Nobel writing in Rolling Stone, who has spent more than a year and a half researching and reporting on radioactivity in fracking waste.
When a well is drilled, it produces a ton of brine, a salty substance that comes out of the ground. Shale wells can produce as much as ten times more brine than they do oil and gas. While hydrocarbons prove to be useful, the brine needs to be hauled somewhere for disposal. Often it is reinjected into disposal wells, or, in some cases it is sent to water treatment plants.
The problem is that the brine can be radioactive. As Nobel writes in Rolling Stone, radioactive brine may be dramatically increasing the cancer risk for people who come in contact with it. The workers who handle the waste are most obviously at risk. But there are plenty of others. The brine is used for de-icing roads, so municipalities are essentially spreading radioactivity all over roads in various parts of the country.
Old oilfield equipment is also repurposed. Rolling Stone spoke with a Louisiana inspector who saw a child sitting on a fence that was so radioactive that someone might receive a full year’s radiation dose in a single hour. Related: Hydrogen Costs Could Be Set To Plunge By 50%
The oil and gas industry dismisses the risk of radioactivity in the brine, which is naturally occurring, as not something that anybody should be worrying about. However, some of the experts that Nobel interviewed argue otherwise. First of all, the notion that just because something exists naturally in the world somehow makes it benign, is odd. “Arsenic is completely natural, but you probably wouldn’t let me put arsenic in your school lunch,” one nuclear-forensics scientist told Rolling Stone.
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