Legislation, Permitting, Pollution prevention & control, Radioactivity, Waste management, Waste storage

“Dear Aunty, is it true there is no way to dispose of flowback waste water?”

Well, no, of course that’s not true.

Flowback waste water from shale gas extraction was presented by anti-fracking callers on the BBC Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ today as a new and somehow novel waste with no means of disposal dears, and yet that’s simply not true at all.

Shale gas opponents say that because it contains small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive material – NORM – that means it is classified as radioactive waste.

And it’s defined this way because it’s generated in the production of oil and gas – what the Environmental Permitting Regulations call a ‘type 2 NORM industrial activity’.

I’ve extracted this for ease:

“type 2 NORM industrial activity” means—
(a) the extraction, production and use of rare earth elements and rare earth element alloys;
(b) the mining and processing of ores other than uranium ore;
(c) the production of oil and gas;
(d) the removal and management of radioactive scales and precipitates from equipment associated with industrial activities;
(e) any industrial activity utilising phosphate ore;
(f) the manufacture of titanium dioxide pigments;
(g) the extraction and refining of zircon and manufacture of zirconium compounds;
(h) the production of tin, copper, aluminium, zinc, lead and iron and steel;
(i) any activity related to coal mine de-watering plants;
(j) china clay extraction;
(k) water treatment associated with provision of drinking water; or
(l) the remediation of contamination from any type 1 NORM industrial activity or any of the activities listed above.

But just because fracking waste water contains small amounts of NORM doesn’t mean it’s an insurmountable problem. It just makes it sound emotive and therefore attracts alarmist language.

Look at (j) – china clay extraction, for example.

China clay is used extensively in paper manufacture and ceramics and its extraction has been going on in Cornwall for decades, producing waste water with NORM in that needs some form of treatment and disposal. And yet we don’t hear of it posing a problem in that area, do we? The news isn’t awash with stories of pollution incidents, is it cherubs, and Cornwall remains a popular tourist destination, doesn’t it?

That’s because NORM is well understood and because the UK has developed successful methods of dealing with wastes that it’s found in.

As Mr Egan, the CEO of Cuadrilla Resources noted in the BBC Radio 4 phone in, waste water from the offshore and existing onshore oil and gas industry has been dealt with successfully too.

There really is no reason to believe that waste from shale gas can’t be dealt with safely as well, poppets.

Before I go, have a look at (k) in the list above. Does that mean that water used for drinking purposes has to be treated to remove NORM before it’s put in the mains for us to drink? Yes, sweeties, that’s exactly what it means.

Until next time xxx

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One thought on ““Dear Aunty, is it true there is no way to dispose of flowback waste water?”

  1. Pingback: “Dear Aunty, is it true there is no way to dispose of flowback waste water?” | NOFrack.co

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