Company Addresses Council about Radioactive Waste

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A company using Industrial Waste Control Inc.'s plant on Sinter Court to monitor radiation levels in waste generated from drilling operations reports that every container it’s tested has been within regulatory limits and poses no threat to the public.

If anything, Austin Master Services Inc. wants to ensure any waste moving into landfills in the region is free of such contaminants and the public's safety is secure, Pete Collopy said.

"We try to set it up so we can identify what’s in the containers" through a detection system that can monitor any level of radiation without opening the contents, said Collopy, a consultant who specializes in radioactive waste analysis for the company. "They don’t have to touch anything that's in the containers."

Collopy and Austin Master principal Pat Horkman addressed City Council July 2 and a dozen or so citizens who had with questions about the company's operations.

Council sat as a committee of the whole in its meeting with Collopy and Horkman.

Wastewater and mud from drilling operations from deep in the earth could emerge as slightly radioactive because of naturally occurring circumstances, Collopy said. However, a drilling or hydraulic fracturing operation could affect the level of that radioactivity in waste such as drill cuttings, so the waste must be tested before it proceeds to any landfill in Ohio.

Austin Master uses Industrial Waste Control’s site here to conduct the tests used in Sinta Gamma Spectroscopy, a process used to detect radiation, but relatively new to the oil and gas industry. It allows operators to scan the contents of a container without exposing the material to the outdoors.

Each box takes just five to 10 minutes to analyze, where before it took 21 days to make such a determination. Therefore, waste isn't stored at the site, and the longest a container could remain on site is about three days, Horkman noted.

The only time a container is opened occurs when a sample needs to be taken for quality control measures. The company has analyzed only seven boxes at the site since it was awarded a license in February from the Ohio Department of Health.  Austin Master plans to sample 20 of the boxes.

Ohio regulations mandate landfills may not be disposal sites for waste with levels of seven or more picocuries per gram, a measurement marker for radiation, Collopy said.  Thus far, none of the seven boxes tested has registered higher than that, so it hasn't been an issue.

Collopy also addressed questions from council who wanted to know how accurate the system is. "All of the samples -- and we've taken hundreds of these to date -- have never shown us anything greater" than what was first tested through the software system, he assured the legislators.

Much of the levels found in the boxes tested could also be found in common construction waste transported through the region, he said. "While it's true the oil and gas does have an association with radioactivity, it's not the only industry," he said.

Horkman also told the audience that most of the oil and gas exploration is occurring further south in areas such as Carroll or Monroe counties and not in the northern tier of the play. Thus, companies are not finding it in their best interests to transport waste three hours north to Youngstown to have their contents tested.

"We played our cards wrong," Horkman said, thinking that drilling activity would pick up in this section of the Utica. "Generators don't want to truck waste up here."

The company is now looking to operate a testing site in the "sweet spot" of the play where exploration is most active, he said, and perhaps set up operations at landfills instead of separate testing centers.

That's hard to do because the company has found it difficult to ascertain which agency has the authority to allow this, whether it’s the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the department of health, or the state Environmental Protection Agency.

City residents who attended the meeting Wednesday said they had concerns over the wording of the company's permit, which also states that it could process uranium and other radioactive materials.

Horkman allowed that the language is broad but also said that his company has no intention to process any radioactive material. "It should stop an analyzing," he noted.

Susie Beiersdorfer, a local activist who has been at the forefront of challenging the safety of this operation, said what she learned helped to answer some of her questions and overall was pleased with the presentation.

"It certainly answered some questions," she said. "On the application, it says plutonium, depleted uranium, and on the application it says that they would process it and treat it, down blend it. Those were a lot our concerns. They said they were just characterizing it."

The larger issue is the lack of regulatory enforcement the state has in such cases, Beiersdorfer said. "Who's in charge? The EPA? The ODNR? The ODH? That's where our big problem lies -- with the regulatory fallacy."

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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