On January 24, 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) launched a study to examine naturally occurring radiation associated with the development of oil and natural gas in the state.

DEP plans to collect samples of flowback water, rock cuttings, treatment solids and sediments at well pads and wastewater treatment and waste disposal facilities to analyze the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity in those substances.

The study will also examine radiation levels in pipes, well casings, storage tanks, treatment systems, and trucks. According to DEP, the study is expected to take 12 to 14 months. The agency will provide progress reports to its water, waste, radiation, and citizens’ advisory councils throughout that period.

New York State has also recently analyzed radiation levels associated with hydraulic fracturing operations in the state, finding that “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine [high volume hydraulic fracturing] operations.”

In addition to examining naturally occurring radioactivity in drilling wastes, the study, which was publicly leaked in the New York Times on January 3, 2013, also analyzed the possibility of water contamination and air emissions, finding that both were likewise “below levels of significant health concern.”

Texas has also acknowledged the relative safety of radioactive material in hydraulic fracturing fluids. On January 30, 2013, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) issued a draft rule that would create an exemption from the TCEQ low-level radioactive waste licensing requirement for the disposal of certain radioactive tracers used in the exploration, development, or production of oil and gas resources.

The exemption would only apply to those who already hold a state license to use, store, and transfer radioactive material, and would allow for the continuation of the industry practice of utilizing on-site disposal pits or Class II injection wells for the disposal of radioactive tracers.

The TCEQ memorandum proposing the regulation stated that without the licensing exemption, “the regulated community is left without a longstanding and economical practice for disposal of the material.”

The anticipated public hearing date on the rule is March 5, 2013, with an anticipated public comment period of February 15, 2013, to March 18, 2013. The anticipated adoption date is June 5, 2013.

This article was prepared by Heather M. Corken (hcorken@fulbright.com or 713 651 8386) from Fulbright’s Environmental Law Practice Group and Lauren Brogdon (lbrogdon@fulbright.com or 713 651 5375) from Fulbright’s Litigation Practice Group.