PADEP Radiation Study and Septic System Guidance

Technical Guidance Revised
April 22, 2013
Summer USEPA Alerts
May 23, 2013
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PADEP Radiation Study and Septic System Guidance

PADEP Releases Sampling, Quality Assurance Plans for Oil and Gas Development Radiation Study

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) released detailed sampling and quality assurance plans for its ongoing comprehensive radiation study of oil and gas development. The agency will sample and analyze radioactivity levels of flowback waters, treatment solids, drill cuttings and drilling equipment, along with the transportation, storage and disposal of drilling wastes.

Based on current data, regulations and industry practices, there is no indication that the public or workers in the oil and gas industry face health risks from exposure to radiation from these materials. The study is aimed at ensuring that public health and the environment continue to be protected.

“Pennsylvania is setting the bar for responsible shale gas development, and the study of radiation issues in oil and gas development is yet another example of that,” PADEP Secretary Mike Krancer said. “Not only do we in Pennsylvania operate with scientific rigor, we do so with unmatched transparency. These plans show exactly how we are conducting this study.”

On Jan. 24, Gov. Corbett directed PADEP to undertake a comprehensive study examining naturally occurring levels of radioactivity in byproducts associated with oil and gas development. Since then, the agency sought a peer review of its sampling and quality assurance plans and expects to begin sampling this month.

The sampling plan outlines the types of samples PADEP will collect, their locations and the methods for analyzing them. The quality assurance plan provides specifics on how the agency will collect, transport and analyze the samples.

PADEP will collect and analyze drill cuttings, flowback fluid and drilling mud for a variety of radioactive particles. Staff will also examine compressor stations, storage tanks, trucks, drill rigs and wastewater treatment facilities.

PADEP routinely reviews radioactivity data in wastes that the drilling industry and other industries generate, and the information obtained to date indicates very low levels of natural radioactivity. The agency also maintains a statewide monitoring network to protect the public from exposure to unsafe levels of radiation.

For more information and to view the plans, visit the PADEP website and click the “Oil and Gas Development Radiation Study” banner at the top of the homepage.

PADEP to Extend Public Comment Period, Host Webinar about Onlot Septic System Guidance 

Guidance Developed in Response to Court Decision

The PADEP announced that it will accept comments for an additional 30 days on draft technical guidance describing how onlot sewage disposal systems can be sited in watersheds that are designated high-quality and exceptional value. The comment period, which was originally slated to close May 1, will be open through June 3.

The agency hosted a webinar on Tuesday, April 23 to present the guidance and answer questions. PADEP will also expand its outreach and discussion efforts with local government organizations.

“Good government, sound policy and public involvement are core tenets of this administration,” PADEP Acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “We want to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard; we want reasonable development to be able to occur; and we want to make sure this state’s water quality is protected. If there are different approaches than the one we have proposed, we want to hear them.”

The draft technical guidance outlines an approach using best management practices, such as the number of septic systems per acre on a proposed development, or nitrate removal technology, to demonstrate that the state’s most pristine waters are protected. Under Pennsylvania law, these high-quality and exceptional value watersheds are afforded special protections, known as anti-degradation requirements. PADEP is required by federal law to ensure the water quality of such watersheds is protected and maintained.

The technical guidance, as drafted, is prospective and would only apply to onlot septic systems for projects that have not yet secured sewage planning approval from PADEP and local government organizations. The technical guidance will not affect projects that have already been approved.

This technical guidance is needed because the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ruled that the modeling PADEP relied on to approve the use of septic systems near high-quality and exceptional value watersheds did not adequately demonstrate the waterways are protected. The ruling set a high legal and scientific standard for review of sewage facilities planning in special protection watersheds.

This draft guidance lays out one approach to address developers’ uncertainty. If it is finalized, PADEP will favorably view planning modules submitted in accordance with the guidance and will also consider alternative approaches as sewage planners seek approval from the agency.

Written comments on the guidance should be sent in writing by June 3 to Thomas Starosta at PADEP’s Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management, Division of Planning and Permits, P. O. Box 8774, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8774, or via email to

For more information or to register for the webinar, visit the PADEP website and click the “DEP Webinars” button, then “Draft Technical Guidance for Onlot Sewage Systems in HQ/EV” on the right-hand side of that page. The webinar will be recorded and posted on this webpage for future viewing.

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