Most soils and rocks contain low-levels of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). Often this NORM is concentrated through physical or chemical processing resulting in technologically enhanced NORM called TENORM. Examples of TENORM containing materials include fire brick, water and wastewater treatment residuals, coal ash and decorative polished rock commonly used in building or home construction. It is also common for the native rock strata involved with the oil and gas extraction industry to contain somewhat higher levels of NORM, specifically natural uranium, thorium and their decay products. Consequently, sediment and solid filter cakes resulting from the recycling or processing of "produced water" (e.g., brines or flowback) typically have increased concentrations of TENORM.
On Jan. 24, 2013, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it was going to study TENORM in materials associated with oil and gas development. Beginning in early 2013, DEP started analyzing the radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids and drill cuttings as well as issues with transportation, storage and disposal of drilling wastes, the levels of radon in natural gas and potential exposure to workers and the public.
DEP is undertaking one of the most extensive and comprehensive studies ever done to examine the levels of naturally occurring radiation in a variety of equipment, materials and media associated with oil and gas development, as well as the potential environmental impact and exposure to the public and workers.
For more information about the study, and to see progress updates and field sampling plans, visit DEP's Oil and Gas Development Radiation Study.