We’re Monitoring Radioactivity – Can We Monitor Fracking Emissions?

Farms Not Arms has been working with the Fukushima Response Campaign and Safecast to set up a global network of citizens monitoring nuclear radiation. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Safecast was on hand to record and release some of the first data on where the plumes had gone over Japan. They coupled radiation detectors with GPS monitors, put them on cars, and drove around, sending readings wherever they went. Their release of data prompted the Japanese Government to release some of their own data.

The Fukushima Response Campaign [FR] has been working in Northern California to train people to use Geiger counters, take readings, and send them in to Safecast. An initial plume of radiation came over in the air when Fukushima first exploded, and the crippled plant continues to pour millions of tons of contaminated water into the ocean off Japan, but at this point no large plume of Fukushima radiation is hitting the west coast of the United States, either in the air or the water. However many feel its arrival is inevitable. The idea of FR is to establish a base, a benchmark of the background radiation before substantial Fukushima radiation does hit, so that when it does, we will know it. State and federal agencies have so far been lax in their monitoring, and hopefully this citizen effort will prompt more monitoring by official institutions. Fukushima Response has been teaming up with similar groups on the West Coast to build a network of monitors, and Safecast is building a rapidly growing global network of data points.

One of the functions of Fukushima Response [FR] and Safecast has been to debunk false or mistaken or exaggerated reports of radiation spikes. Such reports erode the credibility of those who are trying to call attention to the continuing danger of the crippled reactors, like crying wolf too often. In one case, a strip of sand with higher than normal radiation was discovered on Maverick Beach, where the high waves are. FR was able to get a sample tested and establish that the radiation was not from Fukushima. This helps establish FR as a reliable source of information in an information-crowded universe. As the citizen monitoring network grows, it is almost inevitable that more sources of radiation will be discovered. This kind of network puts technology and information that used to be understood by only a few in the hands of the people, educating and empowering us.

[I have recently been informed of another citizen monitoring group in the Tennessee Valley that is documenting radiation releases from nuclear power plants. http://www.matrr.org/ ]

It occurred to me that this type of citizen monitoring network might apply to the fracking situation. I recently watched a webinar on fracking put on by Food and Water Watch and the Land Stewardship Project, and then watched the Weather Channel report on fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. A big problem in TX is the lack of hard data on exactly what toxic chemicals are being released into the air by the fracking operations. People report burning eyes, choking and shortness of breath, but it is intermittent and as yet there is no way to conclusively prove the cause. The energy company is supposed to be monitoring the air, but in one case discussed in the report, the nearest monitor is twenty miles away! If monitors could be set up at those sites they could establish a baseline for “clean air,” and then whenever the emissions occur they could be recorded and analyzed, and a map of exposure data points could be established, which would help make a case for curtailing or shutting down the operations.

Another aspect of this is the radioactivity itself. It is known that drilling for oil often brings up material that is radioactive. That was one of the possible explanations put forth for the high readings on that strip of Maverick Beach. Radioactive material tends to collect and concentrate in oil pipelines, and there could have been one under that beach. It is entirely possible that there could be elevated radiation levels at various points around fracking operations, especially in those settling ponds for material that has returned from the depths. Has anyone been checking the material in the collecting ponds of fracking operations for radiation? This might prove to be valuable and necessary information.

These thoughts should be treated as brainstorming. I am not an expert on monitoring air for toxics, but I’m sure the technical knowledge is out there. In any case, citizen monitoring empowers us by making the unknown known and educating people in general to the real state of the environment in which we live, and which we are recreating all the time.