The “Radiation Issue” Continues to Haunt Oil and Gas Industry


After years of being an issue “too large to address,” both mainstream media and government regulators are finally acknowledging that radioactive wastewater is a huge problem for energy production – not only for oil drilling, of course, but for natural gas fields as well.

The “radiation problem” has been a fact of life for the oil and gas industry for decades. But the day of reckoning may soon arrive in large part due to two major cultural developments – a low-budget documentary called “GasLand” that got huge play on HBO followed by an Oscar nomination, and a hard-hitting natural gas series by the New York Times. The former was big, but the NYT spotlight ensures that the radiation issue will not slip back into oblivion.

The latest news organization to join the fray is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with a major editorial headlined “Radioactive water? Now more than ever, let’s scrutinize gas drilling.” The opinion piece laments efforts to roll back government oversight, including on public lands (see story link below).

The Post-Gazette, which has done important reporting in its own right, acknowledged the NYT, writing that “…an extensive story in The New York Times on Feb. 27 revealed that wastewater from the process of hydraulic fracturing, which breaks up the underground rock and releases the natural gas, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known and much higher than is safe for waste treatment plants to handle.”

I’ll frankly admit an element of frustration that the same radiation issues that I’ve been screaming about for years are only now being “discovered.” But I have renewed hope that, eventually, the public will force politicians to seek real science and real regulation on these issues – and I’m here to tell you, nobody is going to like the answers.

For example, I’ve proven in civil court that the oil and gas industry has known about radiation-contamination issues for decades, but has done nothing to protect workers or the environment or the public. The industry has always valued profit more than people. But there are laws on the books to hold industry accountable for radiation-related damages.

I’ve successfully litigated against oil companies for both property damage and wrongful death associated with radiation damages. In fact, I secured one of the largest verdicts ever to a single landowner for radiation contamination of family-owned land in Harvey, Louisiana. In that trial against an Exxon contractor, the jury handed down a punitive award of $1 billion and compensatory damages (to restore the land) totaled $56 million. Again, there are laws on the books, including the Clean Water Act, that can hold these companies accountable.

After 20 years of suing energy companies for, in effect, poisoning both people and the planet, I have long seen the BP oil spill as just the latest in a long line of atrocities. You think BP is callous about the health of Gulf residents? Just wait until – as the NYT series is showing – you learn that much of the country has endured a slow-motion radiation “spill” over decades.

Here’s the Post-Gazette editorial, which includes announcement of a new website clearing house for drilling information and news coverage:

For more information on “fracking” and related radiation issues, see our new Facebook page:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • I am a midwife looking into the cause of the rise in infant mortality in Vernal, Utah. Many think the culprit is the oil industry (which is the economic stimulus for our area), others believe it to be radiation and I have leaned toward the evaporation ponds. Your article brings all this together. If they are putting radiation into the evaporation ponds (which are increasing in size and the chemicals appear to be changing from Google Earth images)then it could be part (or all of) what is causing the rise in infant mortality, birth defects as well as cancer, suicide and other health issues.

    This is a recent article from Newsweek that will catch you up to speed if you have not already heard about it.

    In about two weeks, we have several doctors who are environmental advocates coming out to look at our situation but none of them seem to know exactly what all we are looking for. I do have a small Geiger counter to take with and in another few weeks I have some radiation specialists arriving to do research. Any insight you have on this would be great.
    Thank you.
    Donna Young

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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