Jump to content
I Forge Iron

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Oil Field Scrap


Recommended Posts

I recently answered a question about sucker rods and it got me thinking that I've never seen anything about NORM on the safety discussions. Look - I hate scare talk and I'm not trying to scare anyone about this. I do believe in being well-informed and rationally evaluating risks. 

The last 23 years I worked was for a major oil company. I started in operations, moved to IT, and after some in-house training, was dubbed an engineer. The last few years I provided chemical engineering support to three platforms. 

You can find NORM in everything from kitty litter to brazil nuts. Radiation is everywhere, but we should try to minimize the extra doses we get for no good reason. I've known people who worked all their lives around NORM and never knew it was there. Did it hurt them? I don't know.  I've also known others that died of cancer after only working five years in the industry. Humans are a widely varied sort and some have greater tolerance for some things than others.  USGS Paper on NORM

The company I worked for had very strict standards for dealing with NORM. Any piece of equipment that was exposed to produced water was tested by a safety tech with a geiger counter. If it was found to have NORM (>50 micro-roentgens per hr -usually concentrated in scale) it was wrapped in plastic and sent to a shore-base location for decontamination. We had good, conscientious safety techs, but I know for a fact that some things slipped by them.

I'm not saying you should wear a dosimeter or go buy a geiger counter to bring when you go looking for tubing or scrapped tanks. But ask what it was used for and where. Ask if it has been tested for NORM. I might buy decontaminated pipe to build a bridge at my camp (wearing HEPA respirator when cutting), but I wouldn't use it for a swing set for my grandchildren.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Garden Banks - a little over 100 miles south of the Louisiana coast. But NORM can be found all over. It tends to aggregate in scale from produced water.  Only I wasn't drilling. My dad was the driller. I was producing - getting the stuff out of the ground, splitting it up into oil, gas and water streams and pipelining the oil and gas back to refineries.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We have radionuclides in our drinking water out here, (the next town over has arsenic and is now treating their water for that.)

Igneous rocks are sources and sediments can be concentrators---like the bar deposits mined for uranium.

However living close to 4600'  we also receive more radiation from space.  Visiting the Trinity site hardy even counts!

Have you run across "well head gas/condensate"?   I've known folks whose grandfathers used to power their Model T's using condensate. They would buy it at the well head and skip all the processing steps. (High compression engines can't use the stuff.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

LeeJustice - I get it. Sorry. When you use terminology for most of your career, you forget that to other folks it is jargon. Produced water is water that comes up with the oil and gas. We want the oil and gas. We don't want the water.

ThomasPowers - Yep. Condensate is heavier hydrocarbons from a gas stream that have to be separated out before running the gas through a compressor. Compressors and liquids don't get along well as I'm sure you know. BTW, sir, I've been on this board for a while but only recently got more active due to surgery on my ankle. There are a lot of helpful, knowledgeable folk who post on this board, but from what I've seen, you deserve a rank above Curmudgeon, IMHO.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In the jargon of IFI; Curmudgeons are experienced folks that continue to answer beginners questions time after time after time even when the question has been asked and answered 1000+ times before.  (On a bad day we may point out that if they do a proper browser search on the question and site:iforgeiron.com they will get over 1000 hits!)  We also try to help people ask questions with all the details needed to answer them.

We are also responsible for a lot of puns, word play, going far astray from the topic and knowing a lot of other curmudgeons' non-blacksmithing backgrounds and knowledge bases and biases.

We do not support willful ignorance or lack of effort. We do not think that the popularity of a person or a post has much to do with it's accuracy of information contained and we hate plaster of paris being attempted to be used as a refractory!

It is a title to be proudly worn here!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 minutes ago, LeeJustice said:

Produced water, how do you produce water? 

Every time you fire up the propane forge. 3CH₈ + 5O₂ > 3CO₂ + 4H₂O.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lee: I don't know why Purple Bullet seems to think urin for some kind of straight line trouble. I wouldn't worry if I were you.

Making water means there's more water returning than being pumped down. Oil drilling uses bentonite mud as a lubricant and coolant to keep from burning up bits and being dense it carries material cut by the bit up and out of the hole. The weight of the mud provides a positive "head" and helps prevent things getting out of the hole you want to stay put till it's time to tap them.

I didn't work oil rigs, I was a geological investigation type driller for bridges, foundations, etc. and we avoided using mud unless it was absolutely necessary. The main reason was to get "return," you can't put water down the hole and not get it back, that is a B  A D thing, drill mud plugs holes, cracks or porous formations so you get return. If you're getting more water than you  pump down, the hole is "making water." You determine a hole is making water drilling with mud because the mud thins out. It's checked with a hydrometer, thinner is lighter and weight is REALLY important to keep the hole calm. On our rigs we watched the level in the mud tub used to let fine cuttings settle out before being recirculated down the hole. 

Making water probably isn't as big a deal on an oil rig but it sure is if you're doing a foundation study. We rarely drilled more than 150' and if you encounter artesian water that shallow it's significant information for the foundation design. Once in a great while we got something weird but usually just dirty water. Some places we hit gas pockets and it was almost always really rank, rotten fish, rank. Hitting a clay lens saturated to or past the plastic limit was serious info and on a couple holes we encountered clay saturated past it's liquid limit. The most notable being in down town Anchorage between 112' - 165' in several locations. The city is standing on a layer of liquid Cook Inlet clay 50' thick. 

The clay lens is the reason for the types of ground failures that mostly destroyed Anchorage in the 64 quake. When it started shaking the clay turned into a well oiled bearing and the city started slipping into the Inlet. 

Sorry, old memories make me ramble.

Frosty The Lucky.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Masterfully done, Frosty.

I never really got into drilling except for one summer as a teenager. I was working as a galley-hand (offshore cook's assistant) on a converted WWII LST drilling tender (ship that held quarters, pipe and supplies for the rig mounted on the platform) and due to an accident they were short-handed. I helped handle the slips (a three part cone with teeth that gripped the pipe and prevented it from falling down the hole) nowadays those are hydraulic operated, but back then they taught me what work is.

My deceased brother spent more time on rigs. He once told me that they were drilling in Timbalier Bay and were over a hundred feet down. They suddenly started smelling a fresh-cut wood smell. They checked the mud tank and found chips of cypress wood floating. I guess it wasn't called Timbalier Bay for nothing. I bet you found a lot of interesting things in that career.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Naturally occurring radiation can come from many different sources including, as PB says, scale from produced water in oil field production, radon gas (a decay product of radium/uranium), various rocks, and solar radiation, which as Thomas points out, increases with altitude.  Geography plays a major part in how much radiation a person may be exposed to and it is not as controlled by geology as one might think.  The Gulf of Mexico area around New Orleans has much higher radiation for produced water than many other oil and gas producing areas and a strip running north-south through Minnesota and Iowa has the highest concentration of radon of anywhere in the country.

Uranium will bind up with carbon resulting in, as Thomas mentioned, coal often being more radioactive than surrounding rocks.  There are dinosaur bones here in Wyoming that are "hot" because of uranium concentrating in the bones.  There is a small building near Como Bluff, a famous dinosaur quarry site, north of Laramie that is built out of dinosaur bones and is "hot" enough and has enough radon concentration that it is unfit for humans.  It used to be a gift shop.

Radioactivity is just one of those things in the environment that person should be aware of and should avoid unnecessary exposure but be aware that all exposure cannot be eliminated.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I went by the Fossil House on one of my motorcycle trips. 

You are absolutely right, George. I struggled with making the original post because its hard to warn people about something you can't detect without special equipment most people don't have. The only defense we have from something like that is knowledge. We can't let it keep us from enjoying life, though. I'm glad I posted because I think I learned more about NORM than the little bit I contributed.

Fossilhouse.JPG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Back to NORM in oil and gas production, which occurs in the tubular and non-tubular goods (i. e. sucker rods).  REPUTABLE scrap yards will scan any incoming goods with geiger/scintillation counters for NORM.  If they detect it, it is not permitted on their property in order to prevent radioactive contamination.  NON-REPUTABLE scrap yards may not give a hoot where it comes from and not do any radioactive testing.  Caveat emptor.......be careful where you get your scrap oil and gas metal.  There are very strict regulations in O/G producing areas as to how the scrap is tested and handled.

Purple Bullet, your information on NORM should be taken to heart by anyone obtaining scrap metal, well done.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Down here on the border things tend to be a little lax as the radioactive rebar (Cobalt 60!) incident shows...

Of course there is something to be said about getting old enough that anything that will kill you in 20 years will just have to stand in line and reproductive hazards are things you warn your students about!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...