Radiation Sources in Natural Gas Well Activities

More attention and monitoring of occupational radiation exposure in the natural gas industry are warranted.

The boom in the natural gas industry across the nation, made possible by recent advances in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") methodology, has resulted in increased concern for public and environmental safety. This, in turn, has resulted in a series of recommendations for minimizing the risk to the public and the environment (Secretary of Energy, 2011). The natural gas industry has responded to environmental concerns by cleaning and recycling frack water, which can take the form of settling bins, filters, and reverse osmosis devices, among other practices.
The very practices that are meant to minimize the environmental impact of fracking on the surrounding area may have significant negative impacts on the workers employed at these facilities. The risk is from exposure to increased concentrations of ionizing radiation, which is naturally present in the ground in the forms of radium, thorium, uranium, lead, and/or radon (Horn, 2009; EPA, 2011). Until recently, the occupational risk of exposure to radioactive material has been largely ignored. The secretary of Energy's 2009 final report mentioned the potential for radioactive isotopes only once in the 23-page report. However, the study by Horn (2009) and subsequent investigations by The New York Times (Urbina, 2011) have resulted in more attention to the matter by the Department of Energy (DOE) (McMahon, 2011).

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