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Taranaki: Radioactive waste to sit on farms for billions of years?


'Climate Justice Taranaki say the regional council have known about radioactivity concerns associated with the drilling industry since at least 1997 and that their response to questions around radioactivity concerns is not good enough. New evidence has scary suggestions of radioactive waste being stored in "welded containers" and having to sit on farmland for billions of years until safe.'

'Following concerns overseas with radioactive material found as 'scales' in pipes and in other extraction equipment and waste - primarily radium-226, radium-228 and radon gas which are known to cause cancer - community groups and the Green party sent an official information request to the Taranaki Regional Council asking questions about radioactive contamination from naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMs) from oil and gas drilling operations.'

'In response to two questions about the cleaning, storage and future use of used well bore pipes after removal TRC answered "not known".'

'Thousands of used drill pipes are clearly visible in storage on the hill between Fitzroy and Bell Block on the eastern side of State Highway 3. Some appear to be uncapped.'

'Landfarms are where drilling wastes, including from cleaned equipment, are dumped before being covered with a thin layer of soil and regrassed for stock to graze. The Waitara landfarm is suspected to leach contaminants into the nearby sea which TRC calls "dilution". These landfarms may soon be opened up to taking drilling waste from across the country. Wellsites and consenting neighbour's paddocks are also used for disposing of drilling wastes.'

'In response to a question enquiring if TRC had policies around storage, use and cleaning of well bore pipes TRC answered "not directly. Any discharge must satisfy Regional Plan".'

'In response to a question about whether there had been any testing of well bore piping by council, industry or other agencies for normally ocurring radioactive materials, particularly 226 Radium or Radon gas, TRC answered "not by this council and we do not know any details".'

'Attached however was some correspondence including between TRC and landfarm operators BTW, the National Radiation Laboratory (NRL) for the Ministry of Health and some oil companies. The correspondence referred to dumping of "a very commonly used & naturally ocurring hydrogen isotope" called Tritium in Waitara's Brown Rd landfarm and confirmation that this might be okay. TRC confirmed it was of "no concern" after correspondence with the NRL and Todd's geologist. TRC did no independent tests.'

'In 1997 when Taranaki Energy Watch asked TRC about risks from Radon 222 in natural gas, in regards to waste discharges, TRC's Basil Chamberlain and Fred McLay provided results from tests conducted at Kapuni and concluded "the level of radon in this gas is far below levels of concern for the general population". The tests were carried out by STOS not TRC.'

'TRC also received a letter in 1997 from MOH's National Radiation Laboratory (NRL) concluding that "radon levels in New Zealand do not constitute a health hazard" however they had "no experience of radon concentration in New Zealand natural gas" but from geothermal steam, and that "one wouldn't expect the radon concentrations in natural gas to be any higher than that found in the geothermal steam".' 

'In 2005 when the NRL was asked by TRC to confirm the 1997 statement they did not provide evidence but simply replied "past experience with sludge in settling tanks and scale in pipework from the Taranaki Region would indicate relatively low levels of contamination" and reconfirmed "the material doesn't present a public health risk".'

'Around December 2011 a student working for TRC contacted the NRL regarding "fraccing waste" tests conducted with a borrowed FH40 doserate meter and pancake Geiger probe. The NRL said the results were within the range of normal background radiation.'

'The only tests done by TRC appear to be after a media inquiry in June this year, when an officer with no apparent training went around two landfarm sites with a geiger counter. When he emailed concerns to the NRL senior advisor about geiger counters only being able to pick up gamma and x-rays (not alpha or beta rays that pose significant "environmental risk") the senior advisor said his monitoring was sufficient to gauge health concerns and that readings appeared to be within the range of normal background radiation. The other rays were not monitored by TRC and the officer declared "there is no sufficient... health concerns and no further investigation is necessary".'

'TRC's Gary Bedford responded to the June media inquiry about concerns of radiation from fracking operations saying that "the natural gas supply industry in NZ is 50 years old. If there were any radon or other NORM risk, it would have been identified and resolved decades ago." and proceeded to lay any problems with the NRL.'

'So now in 2012 after oil companies have finally been forced to apply for resource consent to drill, we have Shell Todd submitting an application for a multi-well fracking operation at Kapuni, where the community has the yet unexplained highest rate of cancer in the country and where Shell had a major leak from a frack operation some years ago.'

'Shell's application reveals the use of additional radioactive material to aid their drilling process. While not apparent in the content of the report, 'Appendix 7: MSDS of tracer components' clearly shows at least two radioactive tracers Thorium 232 and Americium 241 which have a half-life of 14.05 billion years and 458 years respectively. Not "less than the amount used in a brazil nut" as Shell Todd Oil Service general manager Rob Jager said this week.'

'The company plans to store the radioactive waste in onsite "welded containers" until deemed safe. Presumably that could be for several billion years.'

'Recent media and TRC's Offical Information Act response reveals radioactive tracers have been used in Taranaki for some decades. While TRC assures that they have records of chemicals used in pre-2011 frack jobs and Shell assures us that the contaminated waste now being moved from Kapuni to Waitara does not contain radioactive waste we must ask who is conducting independent tests and are they testing correctly. Or do we just continue to rely on the NRL's 1997 reassurances of old?'

'Sufficient monitoring is necessary to protect the health of drill site workers, transporters, local communities, cattle and wildlife from cancers. We need more answers before any more fracking occurs in this country. An immediate moratorium is now critical.'


A copy of the OIA response referred to can be emailed on request. Please email climatejusticetaranaki[at]riseup{dot}net

STOS application to frack at Kapuni can be viewed here:

For more information on overseas concerns see below:

Radioactive wastes from oil and gas drilling take the form of produced water, drilling mud, sludge, slimes, or evaporation ponds and pits. It can also concentrate in the mineral scales that form in pipes (pipe scale), storage tanks, or other extraction equipment. Radionuclides in these wastes are primarily radium-226, radium-228, and radon gas. The radon is released to the atmosphere, while the produced water and mud containing radium are placed in ponds or pits for evaporation, re-use, or recovery.

The people most likely to be exposed to this source of radiation are workers at the site. They may inhale radon gas which is released during drilling and produced by the decay of radium, raising their risk of lung cancer. In addition, they are exposed to alpha and gamma radiation released during the decay of radium-226 and the low-energy gamma radiation and beta particles released by the decay of radium-228. (Gamma radiation can also penetrate the skin and raise the risk of cancer.) Workers following safety guidance will reduce their total on-site radiation exposure.

Most states and federal land management agencies currently have regulations which control the handling and disposal of radionuclides which may be present in production sites. However, the general public may be exposed to TENORM from oil and gas drilling when sites that were active prior to the mid-1970s, when regulations went into effect, are released for public use. It is likely that a number of these sites contain radioactive wastes. The public may also be exposed when contaminated equipment is reused in construction projects.


Is there any actual evidence

Is there any actual evidence of radioactive contamination ? Can you supply samples ?

Thanks for your question,

Thanks for your question, that's the whole point. So few tests have been done and those that were do not appear to be complete. It is a sick, sick joke. All we know is that this waste is out there. If someone or some other animals are going to suffer from it, it will be years down the track and very hard to prove where the illness came from. We are yet to see an independent health study of the people of Kapuni and why so many of them have cancer and MS.