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January Newsletter: Introducing the norm of NORMJanuary 29, 2015
MONTHLY NEWSLETTER FOR JANUARY 2015
UNDERSTANDING NORM AND TENORM – THEY’RE MORE NORMAL THAN YOU THINKPublic hearings on Technologically Enhanced Radioactive Material (TENORM) begin today. NORM and TENORM have been in the news a lot lately, but what exactly are they? Are they dangerous?
Radioactivity sounds scary, but it’s really quite misunderstood and a lot more common than you think. Read on to learn the facts and science of NORM.
WHAT IS NORM?
Naturally occurring radioactive materials, or NORM, are radioactive substances that exist in all natural media, including soils, rocks, water, air, and even in many of our foods like bananas, white potatoes, and peanut butter, as well as radioactive potassium in our own bodies.
Higher concentrations of NORM are uncovered in byproducts of oil and gas development, including sediment, silt and other particulates that are carried to the surface with produced water. This is because radioactive elements, such as radon, radium and uranium are dissolved during normal reactions between water and rock, and concentration becomes higher during long periods of water-to-rock contact.
HOW IT’S BROUGHT TO THE SURFACE
During drilling, a mixture of oil, gas, and formation water is pumped to the surface. The water is separated from the oil and gas into tanks where it is referred to as “produced water.” Sediment, silt and other particulates are also brought to the surface. These byproducts of oil and gas development are considered waste.
These bits of waste can sometimes become concentrated in holding tanks, pipes or filter socks. Because they are concentrated by human activities, they become known as Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or TENORM. While some forms of TENORM may higher levels of radiation than many types of radiation we encounter each day, they still pose very little risk to the general public. This is because it must be swallowed or inhaled. For example, even if you were to stand next to a dumpster full of used filter socks for an entire year, your exposure to that radiation would be less than the radiation you receive in a single day from background sources like the air, soil, water, food, and buildings around us. Watch the videos below for more information on this.
IS NORM OR TENORM DANGEROUS?
Radioactivity is everywhere, so it is important to differentiate between different types of radioactivity.
Radioactive materials are classified under two headings, man-made and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Radioactive materials that are naturally occurring in rocks, soil, water and air are considered NORM. Formation water, produced water, drill cuttings and other waste that is brought to the surface during oil and gas production are considered technologically (human) enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM.
In addition, it is important to define what constitutes “radioactive waste.” Radioactive waste comes from a number of sources, with the majority of it originating from the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons reprocessing. Another source includes medical and industrial wastes, and a third source is NORM, which includes the wastes generated by oil and gas development.
Radioactivity is measured in picocuries and its concentrations are generally reported in picocuries per gram (pCi/g). Most natural soils and rocks contain between 0.5 and 5 pCi/g of radium. In North Dakota, NORM is defined as material with radioactivity exceeding 5 pCi/g.
PROPER HANDLING AND REGULATION OF NORM
Even though NORM is all around us, we still want to ensure TENORM from oil and gas development is properly and safely handled and disposed. While the general public will likely never encounter TENORM associated with the oil field, workers protect themselves by wearing personal protection equipment and following the same rules we all would follow during cold season or taking out the trash: washing our hands, especially before preparing or eating food.
To ensure waste is properly being disposed, the industry is required to place used filter socks in waterproof and airtight containers that must be hauled away by a state licensed contractor. Currently, the contents of containers must be hauled to out-of-state facilities because North Dakota does not allow for the disposal of any materials above 5 picocuries in the state. The rules proposed by the North Dakota Department of Health would allow for waste of up to 50 picocuries to be disposed of in special waste landfills. Anything above would still be hauled out of state.
Safety is and always has been a top priority for the industry, and we will continue advocating for proper handling procedures and disposal facilities within the state for oilfield waste.