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High Levels of Uranium Could Prohibit Fracking

Southern Illinois sits atop the New Albany Shale and is home to one of the most fractured seismic zones in the continental United States. Just to make things interesting, it turns out the New Albany Shale is highly radioactive … so radioactive, in fact, that it has been seriously studied to see if it has enough uranium to serve as a source of nuclear fuel. A typical shale formation has 100 API units of radiation; the New Albany Shale has in some cases up to 200-400 API units above the normal shale background.

This is a high level of organic matter … up to 20% of the shale in the New Albany deposit, by weight, is organic substance. This causes it to be a hotbed of nuclear material. This happens in two ways. First, the uranium tends to be absorbed by organic materials, causing it to concentrate in this particular shale layer. Second, the organic materials themselves are likely caused by an upwelling of marine creatures during the formation of the shale bed. Those marine creatures would have fed on radioactive particles in the sediment of the water in which they lived, then become meals for other marine creatures, and so on.

Drilling for gas using horizontal fracturing (fracking) releases underground minerals into fracking fluids that return to the surface. Due to high levels of uranium this ‘flowback’ will need to be disposed of as nuclear waste to avoid soil, air and water contamination. This could slow the advancement of horizontal fracturing in Southern Illinois which is currently under debate between the fossil fuel industry and various environmental groups. There is no current plan to dispose of nuclear waste.

Annette McMichael/Media Relations Coordinator for SAFE 217-273-1000/


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