The sludge belongs to Range Resources, one of the most active natural gas drilling companies in Pennsylvania. Range has leased over a million acres in the Marcellus Shale region and has been drilling there for a solid decade.
In the course of hydraulic fracturing, chemicals are added to pressurized jets of water to break open hard-to-reach rocks and rock formations. The resultant wastewater is a mix of minerals, chemicals and soil, a slurry made all the more toxic by the high levels of radium contained in the Marcellus sediment. Originally this fracking byproduct was intended for disposal in Pennsylvania landfills, but that plan hit a road block in 2012.
After Pennsylvania landfills installed radiation detectors, they discovered that sludge trucked in from the Marcellus Shale was beyond their acceptable limitations. Since then, Range Resources and other fracking operations have been searching for locations to store their radioactive waste.
Range attempted to offload 12 tons of their sludge at the Arden Landfill in West Virginia, but the shipment was rejected for exceeding its 150 microrem limit. Range then took their sludge to the Meadowfill Landfill in Bridgeport, West Virginia, where it was put on hold while the state’s Department of Environmental Protection inspected it.
Range Resources now has two options for disposing of its tainted sludge: Grand View, Idaho and the Wayne Disposal landfill in Michigan – the only two locations in the country that will accept their volume of radioactive waste.
Now an undisclosed amount of Pennsylvania’s fracking sludge is en route to Wayne Disposal, but reports are unclear just how many shipments will arrive, or when.
A statewide ballot initiative to ban fracking and fracking waste collected 70,000 resident signatures in 2013, and the second phase of the petition will begin in 2015.