Oil tracers harmless to humans - council

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 07:56 06/02/2013

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Radioactive material used in the oil and gas industry is harmless, a Taranaki Regional Council report says.

Director of environmental quality Gary Bedford said yesterday that the public's fear of radioactive material came from a lack of understanding.

"The minute you mention radiation people start seeing things glowing in the dark, when in fact radiation is all around us. It's in what we eat.

"There's radiation present in potatoes, beer, concrete."

A council report into radioactive material tabled yesterday says its use and management in the oil exploration and production sector is lawful and not harmful to human health.

Mr Bedford said the purpose of the report was to reassure the public and keep the council informed as to what was relevant for New Zealand.

"We want to ensure all council information held about radioactive material is based on scientific fact and evidence and not just picked off the internet."

In a resource consent application submitted to the council last year, Shell Todd Oil Services laid out plans to use radioactive tracers as part of the process for its new drilling campaign - a practice used in the industry for the past 30 years.

The amount of radioactivity present is measured in becquerels (Bq) and, according to a Shell Todd Oil Services report, the average flow-back material has 37Bq.

The radioactivity of bananas is 130 Bq, beer 14 Bq and cement 240 Bq.

Mr Bedford said the radioactive tracers did not pose any health risk.

"We did testing for radiation at the Brown's Rd treatment site in Waitara and the levels were lower than that of a nearby beach."

The report also found no evidence of risk resulting from the release of Norms (naturally occurring radioactive materials) from drilling activities.

"As a young geological country we do not have Norms on the scale the US does."

But environmental activist Sarah Roberts has questioned the report, saying it contained irregularities and the information appeared incomplete.

Ms Roberts said the report did not specify what level of radiation amounted to a lethal dose.

"There's no accurate data about how hazardous they are."

Mr Bedford said Ms Roberts' statement lacked justification.

"Our compliance monitoring is the most comprehensive of any agency in New Zealand," he told Taranaki Daily News.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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