Radioactive device for fracking is lost by Brian Wingfield, September 14, 2012, Bloomberg News
AUSTIN, Texas — Halliburton Co. is scouring a 130-mile swath of West Texas oil fields for a lost 7-inch cylinder with radioactive material used when drilling natural gas wells by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Pickup trucks outfitted with detection gear retraced the route of a vehicle that carried the radioactive rod before it was reported missing Tuesday, the Houston-based company told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The trucks drove at 10 miles an hour between Pecos, where the device was previously used on a well, and Odessa without finding the unit, according to an NRC incident report Thursday.
“It’s not something that produces radiation in an extremely dangerous form,” Chris Van Deusen, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman, said in an interview. “But it’s best for people to stay back, 20 or 25 feet,” if they find a cylinder marked “radioactive — do not handle,” he said.
Oil-field service firms lower the radioactive units into wells to let workers identify places to break apart rock for the fracking process, which frees trapped oil and natural gas. While the loss of such a probe occurs from time to time, it has been years since a device with americium-241/beryllium, the material in Halliburton’s device, was misplaced in Texas, Mr. Van Deusen said. Loss of a device of this type hasn’t been reported to the NRC within at least the past five years, spokeswoman Maureen Conley said in an interview. She said the material would have to be in someone’s possession for several hours to be considered harmful. The agency was notified because it works with states to regulate use of radioactive materials. Halliburton called the Reeves County sheriff’s office in Pecos after discovering that the item missing, police Sgt. Jerry Millan said. “They told us they had lost a radioactive rod,” he said. “I’ve worked in the oil fields, so I knew what it was. We’ve been assisting with the search.” [Emphasis added]