Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale By Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates
January 10, 2012 3 Comments
Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale
By Marvin Resnikoff, Radioactive Waste Management Associates
January 10, 2012
A significant public health hazard associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus
Shale formation must be seriously investigated by the New York State Department of
Environmental Conservation (DEC). This hazard is from radioactive radon gas and the
potential for large numbers of lung cancer among natural gas customers. This issue,
which has been ignored in the DEC’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement, must be addressed in a revised Impact Statement and before DEC issues any
Unlike present sources for natural gas, located in Texas and Louisiana, the Marcellus
Shale is considerably closer to New York consumers. In addition, the radioactive levels
at the wellheads in New York are higher than the national average for natural gas wells
throughout the US.
In this paper Radioactive Waste Management Associates calculates the wellhead
concentrations of radon in natural gas from Marcellus Shale, the time to transit to
consumers, particularly New York City residents, and the potential health effects of
releasing radon, especially in the smaller living quarters found in urban areas.
It is well known that radon (radon-222) is present in natural gas.1 Published reports by R
H Johnson of the US Environmental Protection Agency2 and C V Gogolak of the US
Department of Energy3 also address this issue. Radon is present in natural gas from
Marcellus Shale at much higher concentrations than natural gas from wells in Louisiana
Since radon is a decay product of radium-226, to calculate radon levels it is necessary to
know the concentrations of radium-226, Based on a USGS study4 and gamma ray logs
(also known as GAPI logs) that we have examined, the radium concentrations in the
* Great appreciation for the excellent assistance of Minard Hamilton, RWMA Associate
1 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Ionizing Radiation and
U.S. National Research Council, Health, Risks of Radon and Other Internally Deposited Alpha-Emitters:
BEIR IV (National Academy Press, 1988)
2 Johnson,R.H. et al, “Assessment of Potential Radiological Health Effects from Radon in Natural Gas,”
Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-520-73-004, November 1973.
3 Gogolak, C.V., “Review of 222 Rn in Natural Gas Produced from Unconventional Sources,” Department
of Energy, DOE/EML-385, November 1980
J.S. Leventhal, J.G. Crock, and M.J. Malcolm, Geochemistry of trace elements in Devonian shales of the
Appalachian Basin, U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 81-778, 1981
Radon in Natural from Marcellus Shale Page 2
Marvin Resnikoff, Ph.D. RWMA
Marcellus Shale is 8 to 32 times background. This compares to an average radium-226 in
surface soil in New York State of 0.81 picoCuries per gram (pCi/g)5
Using this range of radium concentrations and a simple Fortran program that simulates
the production of radon in the well bore, and transit to the wellhead, we calculate a range
of radon concentrations at the wellhead between 36.9 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) to 2576
These wellhead concentrations in Marcellus shale are up to 70 times the average in
natural gas wells throughout the U.S. The average was calculated by R.H.Johnson of the
US Environmental Protection Agency in 1973 (pre-fracking) to be 37 pCi/L6 to a
maximum of 1450 pCi/L.
In addition, the distance to New York State apartments and homes from the Marcellus
formation is 400 miles and sometimes less. This contrasts with the distance from the
Gulf Coast and other formations which is 1800 miles. At 10 mph movement in the
pipeline, natural gas containing the radioactive gas, radon, which has a half-life of 3.8
days, will have three times the radon concentrations than natural gas originating at the
Gulf Coast., everything else being equal, which it is not..
Being an inert gas, radon will not be destroyed when natural gas is burned in a kitchen
We have examined published dilution factors and factored in numbers for average urban
apartments where the dilution factor and the number of air exchanges per hour are less
than those of non-urban dwellings. This analysis implies that the radon concentrations in
New York City and urban apartments is greater than the national average.
We assume a figure of 11.9 million residents affected. This figure is calculated in the
following manner: Based on US Department of Energy figures our calculations assume
4.4 million gas stoves in New York State. This figure is multiplied by 2.69 persons per
household to determine the number of residents affected: this number equals 11.9 million.
We calculate the number of excess lung cancer deaths for New York State. Our results:
the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the
Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448.
This is an additional number of lung cancer deaths due to radon from Marcellus Shale
over deaths from natural radon already impacting New York State homes and their
5 Myrick, T. E., et al. 1981. State Background Radiation Levels: Results of Measurements Taken During
1975-1979, ORNL/TM-7343, Oak Ridge, Tenn..
6 Johnson, Op cit.
The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement produced by the New York
State Department of Environmental Conservation needs to be revised to take into account
this public health and environmental hazard. In the entire 1400 page statement there is
only one sentence containing the word “radon” and no consideration of this significant
public health hazard.
Further, NYDEC needs to independently calculate and measure radon at the wellhead
from the Marcellus Shale formation in presently operating wells before issuing drilling
permits in New York State. The present RDSGEIS should be withdrawn.