Whether wastewater from natural gas drilling sites will be more extensively analyzed for radiation levels still is an unknown, but some Pennsylvania water systems don't plan to wait and will step up radiological tests, officials said this week.

The decision to increase testing on wastewater pumped from shale drilling sites during hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) operations comes as elected officials, regulators and environmental groups question whether wastewater radiation levels are above acceptable limits. The uproar began last weekend after the New York Times launched a series of articles about hydrofracking and an apparent lack of oversight on drilling operations (see Daily GPI, March 1).

Using documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the article asserted that routine water testing had not occurred at close to 65 of the state's drinking water intake sites since 2008, and most intake sites had not been inspected for almost six years. DEP's "lax" oversight of state drilling operations was a major focus of the Times story.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) followed with a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, requesting "immediate assistance and immediate action" in responding to the story's implications. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) also requested that EPA and DEP step up inspections. In addition to more inspections, Casey also wants more public disclosure about the state's drinking water.

"No threat to Pennsylvania drinking water should be taken lightly; especially one involving radioactive material," Casey wrote. "Alarming information has been raised that must be fully investigated. I am calling on the DEP and the EPA to increase inspections of Pennsylvania drinking water resources for radioactive material and to account for why sufficient inspections haven't taken place."

(To read the full story go to shaledaily.com).

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