Trucks hauling rock cuttings from drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania regularly cross the New York State border these days to dump in the Chemung County Landfill seven miles east of Elmira.
The Marcellus formation is characterized by unusually high readings of naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM, so most of the cuttings are probably radioactive. The Chemung Landfill, a former gravel pit, has never been licensed to handle low-level radioactive waste.
So how can the landfill’s private operators get clearance from the county and state environmental regulators to bethcome a regional dump for radioactive drilling wastes?
The short answer: Provide the revenue-hungry county a rich payout, exploit a legal loophole, and presto, it’s a done deal.
The longer answer: Regulations haven’t kept pace with the recent widespread use of an invasive new drilling technology used to tap the Marcellus.
“There are many aspects of this new industrial activity that outpace existing regs. Radiological regulation is just one of them,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University geology professor who has tracked the evolution of natural gas drilling for decades.