The natural gas industry is a boon to the economy of the United States and will continue to expand in the following decades. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), however, produces much waste and it must be determined how to dispose of unwanted byproducts of natural gas drilling, such as produced wastewater, solid scale, and oil. Radionuclides such as uranium were deposited in the Marcellus Shale millions of years ago and are now being returned to the surface in produced water from fracking. The presence of radionuclides creates a policy conflict between laws that protect public health and the economics of disposing of produced water. This case study will help readers understand how geologic history, hydrology, and present policy are intricately related in Pennsylvania. It will address possible methods for handling wastewater—storage, reuse, treatment, injection wells, and transport—and the degree to which state and federal policies protect drinking water from produced water. In addition, the Radium Girls factory case from California helps readers consider how the mode of exposure matters for the effects of human contact with radionuclides. Students of environmental policy will be better able to understand the linkages between policy and the physical sciences.
Geologic History, Hydrology, and Current Public Policy: The Case of Radionuclides and Water Quality in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Region
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Adam N. Bell, Maria A. Hernandez, Kevin Kremer, Daniel J. Mallinson; Geologic History, Hydrology, and Current Public Policy: The Case of Radionuclides and Water Quality in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Region. Case Studies in the Environment 31 December 2018; 2 (1): 1–11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/cse.2018.001388
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