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Regulators look into radioactive waste disposal at oil & gas production sites

April 22, 2014
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As production of oil and gas rises across the United States, environmental and public health groups have been pressing for tighter regulation on radioactive waste, which increases in line with industry output. But industry representatives claim they are taking all necessary measures and additional regulation would be redundant. In an attempt to find out more about each side's arguments, regulators are looking into the ways well operators are disposing of radioactive waste and are reviewing limits for radiation levels, Bloomberg reported.

States like West Virginia, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, where the oil and gas industry is particularly strong, are currently examining whether allowed levels of radiation and disposal rules need to be changed. But it's hard to draw up rules because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there is no scientific evidence about what level of radiation is safe.

Avner Vengosh, a Duke University geochemistry professor, told Bloomberg that as new wells emerge and production rates rise, the volume of radioactive waste is also increasing, potentially damaging the environment in the long term. He explained that elevated radiation levels around oil well were detected even back in the 1970s, but the situation now is on a much larger scale.

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Companies claim they have installed radioactivity monitors and controls that can immediately pick up an increase above permitted levels. However, when this happens the waste is moved to another landfill, possibly in another state where limits are not as strict, Bloomberg said.

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