Email us:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012



(NOTE: Unless you read the first part of this series, FRACKING INSANE, you will miss background information that is essential for a complete understanding on this subject. There are so many facets, the deeper we got, the deeper it gets.  Though we may refer to some of this information, we will not repeat it in this or subsequent parts of this series, so we recommend you read it.)

The Homeland Security Department, part of the Executive branch of our government, has long feared a “dirty bomb” terrorist attack on a highly populated area. (A “dirty bomb” is a low-tech device as small as a brief-case containing radioactive material, an explosive charge and a detonator. No nuclear scientists needed, but in the right spot, it would spread the radiation, and though the initial death toll might be small, thousands of people would get sick and eventually die.) Well, who needs terrorists, when you’ve got the Natural Gas Industry to do it for you? The terrorists can sit back and watch as the Industry, with the blessing of most of our political and business leaders, spreads deadly radioactive radon gas throughout our cities through the existing network of gas pipes fed by newly constructed large diameter pipelines, which run directly from the fracking wells into our kitchens and basements.

Most people who were ever involved with buying a home are aware that Radon gas concentration is an item that home inspectors have the ability to check at the insistence of buyers and bankers. But most are not aware that the reason the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that all homes be inspected for Radon gas is that it has been identified as the second leading cause of lung cancer, next to tobacco, and it is the primary cause amongst non-smokers. Over 21,000 people in the US are said to die annually as a result of exposure to radiation from Radon gas, and if we let the Natural Gas Industry have their way, that number might be growing exponentially, (though it may take some years for the new cancers to develop).

Although Radon gas is a naturally occurring heavy gas that sometimes gets into basements directly from the earth and is also found in small amounts in most conventional natural gas and propane, concentrations of Radon in fracked gas at the wellhead are said to be up to 70 times higher than that of conventional gas, and the gas fracked from shale rock formations, especially the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, which is slated to feed New York City with the encouragement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is said to have one of the highest concentrations of Radon gas of any area in the country. The radioactive half-life of Radon is only 3.8 days, and it is recommended to wait at least ten half-lives (in 38 days the Radon gas is reduced to 1/1000th) before delivering it, but they plan on the journey though these pipelines from the fracking wells into our homes to take only 10 to 15 hours, so the Radon will have virtually no time to dissipate. 

The rock and soil in these shale formations, that promise to yield so much gas through the process of fracking, contains the heavy radioactive elements, Uranium-238 (with a half-life of 4.5 billion years), and Radium (with a half life of 1,622 years). Radium is a decay product of Uranium and is the element it becomes after giving off tiny explosions of radioactivity releasing energy and neutrons and protons from the nuclei of these atoms.  (A Geiger counter measures radioactivity by counting the number of these tiny explosions.) Radon gas is the decay product of Radium, with a half-life of only 3.8 days, upon which half of its mass has turned into radioactive isotopes of Lead (a dangerous heavy metal) and Polonium-218 (a solid radioactive element with a half-life of 3 minutes), and eventually Polonium-210 (with a half-life of 138 days). Whereas Radon is an inert gas and is mostly exhaled after being breathed in, the solid particles of Lead and Polonium, Radon’s “daughters”, attach themselves to dust particles which after inhalation remain in the lung tissue. The onslaught of the tiny explosions of radioactivity from the Polonium and other radioisotopes in the decay chain of Radon is believed to be the cause of the consequent development of lung cancer. Despite this evidence, despite the EPA’s very own findings about the real danger of Radon and our need to test for it in our homes, schools and workplaces, and despite the Radon Awareness websites and governmental programs, both the Industry and, outrageously, our political leaders choose to ignore these high concentrations of Radon found in fracked gas in their environmental impact studies (PDF) on fracking and on the building of pipelines.

Here are two maps, back to back, so you can imagine them being overlaid, the first one showing Radon Potential prepared in 1995 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the second showing the Shale “Plays” where the fracking is taking place, prepared in 2011 by the Energy Information Agency (EIA), part of the US Department of Energy (DOE). (We didn’t make this stuff up.)

As you can see, the gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and southern New York (pending) will have a higher Radon Potential than gas, for example, from Texas and Louisiana. And that will be the gas which will be fed through the 1.2 billion dollar Spectra Pipeline already under construction (despite citizen protest) entering New York City through the Meatpacking District neighborhood of Manhattan, and coming directly from Pennsylvania with hardly any time for the radioactivity to dissipate.

Supporters of fracking and the building of the many new pipelines (all over this country) may try to minimize the threat presented by the presence of Radon in the fracked gas by rationalizing that there are many other sources of radiation in air, water, food, sun, medical tests, fall-out, etc., etc. But, even if our homes have the average US radon concentration of less than 2 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), which is well below the EPA’s threshold for remediation (4 pCi/l), the radiation we experience from Radon accounts for 54% of our total annual dose. The pie graph below shows our exposure before the introduction of Radon-laced fracked natural gas into our households (and without taking into account the effects of the Japanese Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown). Besides all of this, there is no safe level of exposure to radiation. It threatens our health and the health of our children and pets, and should always be minimized.
(1 picocurie is 37 per second of the tiny explosions of atoms giving off sub-atomic particles in their process of radioactive decay, so 4 picocuries is 148 tiny explosions per second. We have evidence that some homes in America in the high radon potential areas have as much as 17 picocuries per liter many times detected after a family member is diagnosed with lung cancer, which is unfortunately too late.)

Speaking of children and pets, there is one more factor that should be considered before pumping Radon-laced fracked gas into our kitchens and boilers, and that is that Radon and its by-products, Lead and Polonium, are heavy elements, and as such, will sink towards the floor, so our children and pets will be exposed even more than we will. The fact that Radon is an inert gas means that it will not react or oxidize when the natural gas is burned in the oven, broiler, hot water heater, on the range, or in the gas heater. The natural gas will burn, while the Radon gas will sink and accumulate. Also, our urban apartments and kitchens, particularly in New York City, are exceedingly small and are not well ventilated, providing even higher concentrations of Radon and its “daughter” elements and of the associated radioactivity to threaten our health and well being.

So, there is a lot to fear about their plan to provide New Yorkers, the whole US, and the world with this wonderful, unlimited supply of natural gas (there are rumors that some of these pipelines will also be used as a conduit for export). Radon, Radiation, and Lung Cancer are all major concerns, as are all the environmental and health concerns brought up in Part One of this Series, FRACKING INSANE. (We encourage you to read it and review it, since we will not be repeating this essential information.)

The other major concerns regarding pipelines are leaks and explosions. On September 9, 2010, luckily at 6:11PM before many commuters got home from work to SanBruno, CA, suburb of San Francisco, a pipeline exploded with such force that people thought it was an earthquake or airplane crash, sending a wall of flames 1000 feet in the air. It took responders more than an hour to determine it was a gas explosion, and to turn off the gas. Eight people were killed, 38 homes destroyed, and the 28 foot section of the 30 inch diameter steel pipe that ruptured landed 100 feet away from the crater left by the explosion (167 feet long, 26 feet wide, and 40 feet deep). As is common in these instances, people had reported smelling gas in the area for several days. Another example is the explosion in Allentown, PA on February 9, 2011, where 5 people were killed including a four month old boy and a 16 year girl.

Although these instances of explosions (as investigated by the National Traffic Safety Board - NTSB) are rare considering all the miles of gas pipelines in the US, they are not isolated. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), part of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) that oversees all interstate pipelines, (174,000 miles of the 2.5 million miles of gas pipelines in this country) has provided us with this graph showing annual serious pipeline incidents involving deaths or in-patient hospitalization. Just in the last 3 years (2009-2011), the yearly average has been 38 incidents, 15 deaths, and 74 injuries.

And these incidents will continue, based on the age (40 to 60 years plus) of much of the network of steel and cast iron pipelines which get corroded by moisture, carbon dioxide, and sulphur. But even the newest pipelines which the fracking enthusiasts are rushing to build, like the Spectra Pipeline into NYC, are vulnerable. All it takes is one bad weld, or one imperfection in the steel. Can you imagine such an explosion in NYC? It could rival the death toll of 9/11.

And while we’re mentioning 9/11, take a look at the new terrorist targets they’re providing, including the gas “vault” structure they plan to build in Manhattan (17 X 26 feet). No need for explosive fuel. All that’s needed is enough to detonate the explosion. Whether caused by terrorists, or more likely, by accident, the threat of explosion is real.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), part of the US Department of Transportation (DOT), was charged in 2002 with the safety of the interstate gas pipelines, but their staff now only consists of 88 inspectors nationwide, and other than reporting and making graphs and checking paperwork reports generated by the pipeline and energy industries, they only perform an average of 800 – 900 actual field inspections each year. And if you think about it, how can you inspect the exterior of a buried pipeline without excavating it? And the only way we’ve found in our research to inspect the length of interior of a pipeline is with an automated bullet shaped “pig”, which can’t be used in many pipelines due to variations in diameters, Even though the diameter of the Spectra pipeline to NYC already under construction is not uniform, they plan to inspect portions of the interior with a “pig” once every seven years, but as we understand it, the “pigs” are owned, programmed, and operated by the pipeline operators. The reports generated are shared with the inspectors, but as far as actual field inspections are concerned, we’re not sure how effective these few government inspectors really can be.

Another factor contributing to the danger of these large (30 to 42 inch diameter) interstate distribution pipelines is the fact that they are highly pressurized (1.000 to 1,500 psi – pounds per square inch). At these pressures any explosion would be catastrophic. One of the reasons for this high pressure is an item not often talked about outside the industry, and that is called “linepacking”. If you think about it, besides using these pipelines to convey product to market, you can fit many more cubic feet of gas per mile of pipe at high pressure, so when demand is slow, they can store many more millions of cubic feet of gas in the pipelines, despite the fact that they transverse populated areas. The industry uses these pipelines as horizontal storage tanks disregarding the safety of their neighbors.

The big question is, are the dreams of the fracking and energy enthusiasts and of our politicians and the profits of the energy companies and leaseholders worth the very real public threats of Radon, Lung Cancer, and the possibility of explosion?  The Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), by ignoring these issues and allowing the construction of the Spectra Pipeline running from the fracking wells in the Marcellus Shale to NYC (and many such projects across the country) to proceed, seems to give us the answer to this question. The health and safety of Americans is secondary.

We’ve included a video and a NotesforGeeks with some science at the end. The video is of Clare Donohue, an environmental activist in NYC, at an Occupy the Pipeline rally protesting the construction of the Spectra Pipeline she helped organize with her group, the Sane Energy Project, a very active organization with a multi-pronged strategy of protest, education, and legal action. When the first part of our series, FRACKING INSANE, was first published, Clare contacted us to express her genuine approval, with the exception of our omission of the Radon and Pipeline issues. At that time, although we had done lots of research and covered dozens of other issues on fracking, these subjects were totally off our radar. Hopefully, she’ll be pleased with this article. The NotesforGeeks section this time is a direct reprint of a posting on Radon by the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. As we say at the top of every posting, “we do not pretend to be academics or experts”, but these people seem to be, and good teachers, as well.

As always, we encourage you to do your own research and to draw your own conclusions. We’d love to get some feedback from our readers. Our email address is Also we’d like to thank our readers in Russia and Germany, our biggest audience so far outside the US, as we would all of our US and international readers. For the sake of our people, our families, and Mother Earth, we encourage all of you, as charter members of Woodstock Earth, to spread the word and help get these stories out.

Spectra Pipeline Regulatory Status:
 Interview w/ Clare Donohue, Sane Energy Project
NotesforGeeks: This is a direct reprint on the science of radioactive Radon gas from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (
Introducing the Radon Progeny
(formerly called Radon Daughters)
The chart below lists all of the decay products of radon gas (radon-222) in their order of appearance. They are called the "radon progeny" (formerly "radon daughters”). Each radioactive element on the list gives off either alpha radiation or beta radiation -- and sometimes gamma radiation too -- thereby transforming itself into the next element on the list. Lead-206, the last element on the list, is not radioactive. It does not decay, and therefore has no half-life.
When radon gas is allowed to build up in an enclosed space, such as a mine shaft or basement, the radioactive hazard increases enormously, because of the build-up of radon progeny. Conversely, when radon gas migrates through the atmosphere, the solid radon progeny are deposited on the soil and water below, entering into the food chain and hence the bodies of birds, animals, fish and insects.

The vertical axis measures the MASS NUMBER,
while the horizontal axis measures the ATOMIC NUMBER.
DIAGONAL ARROWS indicate alpha decay
while HORIZONTAL ARROWS indicate beta decay.
It is a measure of the ENERGY of the alpha radiation.
The more energetic it is, the more damaging it is.

What are the Mass Number
and the Atomic Number?
All the atoms of a given element are identical. Each atom has a tiny core called a "nucleus", containing even smaller particles called "protons" and "neutrons". The number of protons in the nucleus is the "atomic number", while the number of protons and neutrons together is the "mass number". These numbers are characteristics of the particular element.
Elements having the same atomic number are chemically indistinguishable, even if the mass numbers are different. They are called "isotopes". For example, polonium-218, polonium-214, and polonium-210 are three isotopes of polonium. They have different mass numbers -- as indicated by their names -- but they share the same chemical properties because they all have the same atomic number, 84.
During "alpha decay", the nucleus gives off an alpha particle, which is made up of two protons and two neutrons. Thus the atomic number goes down by two and the mass number goes down by four.
During "beta decay", one of the neutrons in the nucleus spontaneously turns into a proton giving off a high-velocity electron in the process. Thus the atomic number increases by one (as there is now an extra proton) and the mass number is unchanged. The escaping electron is called a beta particle.

1 comment:

  1. I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to achieve my goals. I certainly love reading everything that is posted on your website.Keep the stories coming. I liked it!
    building inspection nyc
    building inspection service