radioactive oilfield waste

Worker disposes of radioactive filters into one of a series of trash cans at a wastewater recovery facility for the hydraulic fracturing industry near Keane, North Dakota.  These filters, known as “socks,” are installed in the pumps at delivery stations, allowing tanker trucks to offload fracking wastewater, including production water, into large storage tanks.  Recovered fluids pass through these filters, straining out sediments, as the fluids are pumped into the storage tanks.

Production water, injected deep in the earth’s crust to break displace trapped oil deposits, contains sands and several hundred toxic chemicals including as many as a dozen carcinogens. Both this wastewater, and the “blowback” water that returns when a wellbore is drilled, carries Radium-based radioactivity.

The allowable level of radioactivity for any item disposed in a public landfill in North Dakota is 5 picocuries, however each filter sock may register as high as 60-100 picocuries each (citation needed). Current state regulations call for this radioactive waste to be disposed in one of a few specially-designed landfills in the U.S. and no regulations are in place as to the appropriate attire for oilfield workers handling these socks. This man holds the socks with heavy rubber gloves, but there is concern that cumulative exposure to such handling these materials may lead to radiation burns on the body.  Fracking socks have been disposed of improperly in abandoned buildings it is thought so that oil companies would avoid the costs of legal disposal.   I photographed these filter socks as they were placed in simple trash cans at this disposal site.