PADEP Announces Results of TENORM Study of Oil and Gas Operations: Little Risk, but More Requirements Coming?

January 20, 2015
Darryl D. Borrelli and Todd D. Kantorczyk
MGKF Special Alert

On January 15, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) issued its long awaited study of the potential effects on the public, worker health and safety, and the environment from technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM) associated with Pennsylvania’s burgeoning natural gas industry.  TENORM results from natural gas operations when materials from depths where certain radioactive elements naturally occur are brought to the earth’s surface.  The study provides the results of sampling conducted by PADEP of materials from various activities associated with the generation, storage, use, treatment and disposal of natural gas production and waste materials and the natural gas product.  The study evaluated exposures at locations where TENORM is handled, such as well pads, wastewater treatment plants, landfills and gas distribution facilities, among others, and assessed potential environmental impacts and the possible health impact on workers and the general public. 

Although the study generally concludes that workers and the public face little risk from exposure to TENORM related materials associated with the natural gas industry, it notes the potential for radiological environmental impacts from surface releases of oil and gas fluids and the treatment and disposal of oil and gas wastes.  To that end, PADEP makes some fairly broad ranging recommendations for further study and potential actions related to TENORM materials.  These studies may well lead to additional requirements having the potential to affect oil and gas production in Pennsylvania.

Given the recent global economic conditions facing the natural gas industry and the changing political climate in the Commonwealth, it is unclear how or when these further policies, regulations and guidance related to TENORM materials will take shape.  As we have in the past, our lawyers and technical staff will continue to monitor these developments for our clients to make sure that the science forms the basis for PADEP’s decisions.  If you have any questions about the TENORM study or PADEP’s actions with regard to TENORM, please contact Darryl Borrelli at (484) 430-2302 or Todd Kantorczyk at (484) 430-2359.