Radon Rhetoric of Anti-Expert on Natural Gas Rejected

Readers of this blog will recall we have previously addressed Marvin Resinikoff’s rhetoric on the subject of radon connected with natural gas, finding his arguments so seriously flawed as to be laughable.  We also heard Resnikoff speak in Steuben County last year and were singularly unimpressed.  Yet, the guy keeps surfacing as a favorite expert of every anti-natural gas interest group out there.  I am a consultant, myself, and often joke about the qualifications, my favorite being “three right guesses in a row.”  What does it mean when you make three wrong guesses in a row?  Does that make someone an “anti-expert” or something along those lines?

Well, if so, Marvin Resnikoff has qualified.  He was wrong on radioactivity levels in the Marcellus Shale, wrong on his conversions radioactivity to radium readings and wrong in his assumptions regarding what this means for radon concentrations in the natural gas that goes into the pipeline.  He hit the trifecta, in other words, and apparently that’s exactly what our activist friends were looking for, because they keep him.  But, he keeps delivering – for our side.

Resnikoff surfaced again recently as an expert in a matter before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the proposed Spectra Energy Companies plans for a gas transmission line (the New Jersey – New York Pipeline project).  It is an expansion of the existing Texas Eastern Transmission and Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline systems intended to “deliver new, critically needed natural gas supplies to the New Jersey and New York areas, including Manhattan.”  It involves roughly 16 miles of new pipeline and five miles of replacement pipeline and has received a certificate from FERC allowing it to proceed.

Naturally, the usual suspects, which are located in an area heavily dependent on natural gas for heat, are firmly opposed and have wanted a  new hearing.  They include the Sierra Club, No Gas Pipeline and Park Foundation funded Food & Water Watch.  These three entities have filed legal actions against the project, which actions have been answered by Spectra Energy Companies.  Our radioactive friend Marvin was recruited as an anti-expert to assist in this war of urban energy users against energy development.  The intervenors (Sierra Club, et al) submitted a Motion to Supplement the Record with Marvin’s Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale study claiming:

The study uses quantified information to demonstrate the significant potential threat posed to end-users of Marcellus shale gas in the New Jersey-New York area by both explaining the radon issue in greater detail, as well as quantifying the potential for increased numbers of lung cancer deaths resulting from consumption of Marcellus shale gas in the Project area.  Specifically, the study includes detailed calculations on the concentrations of radon in Marcellus shale natural gas at the wellhead, the time required to ship the gas to end-users, the level of dilution to be expected in a typical New York City household, and the potential health effects of releasing radon into end user’s homes.

We dealt, in our earlier post, with the major flaws in anti-expert Resnikoff’s assumptions, but Spectra Energy employed Lynn R. Anspaugh, Ph.D. and Risk Sciences International to go even deeper.  The result is considerable new additional data further revealing the utter dearth of credibility associated with the Radon in Natural Gas from Marcellus Shale study.  Provided below are some of the key findings from these two expert sources (read their full reports here and here):

Lynn Anspaugh, PhD Report

Here are some of the more relevant excerpts from Anspaugh’s very thorough analysis of Resnikoff’s work, with key statements highlighted:

The essence of the Resnikoff paper is its sensational and false assertion that as many as 30,000 excess lung cancer deaths in New York State might occur as a consequence of radon in Marcellus Shale natural gas used by customers with unvented stoves.  Resnikoff’s assertion clearly violates the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommendation that “the aggregation of very low individual doses over extended time period is inappropriate, and in particular, the calculation of the number of cancer deaths based on collective effective doses from trivial individual doses should be avoided.”  Resnikoff’s improper and incorrect cancer estimate is based upon his erroneous estimate of the radon concentration in the natural gas supplied to New York State customers … (and the actual) cancer risk, based on actual radon measurements from natural gas samples along the existing pipeline, is insignificant.

It has been known for about 100 years that radon occurs in natural gas (van der Heijde 1977); and the potential health impacts of this occurrence have been investigated by several authors, including a major study by the U.S. EPA (Johnson et al. 1973).  The EPA study estimated that the overall average concentration of radon at the wellhead is 37 pCi/L.

Actual measurements conducted between June 26 and July 3, 2012, of the radon concentration in the natural gas at various points along the existing pipeline, which will be extended into New York City in the expansion project, completely refute Resnikoff’s claims and fully support the Commission’s conclusion that radon is not a concern. Specifically, Resnikoff’s claim that over 30,000 persons could die of lung cancer is based on his flawed estimate that the radon concentration in the natural gas as it is delivered to customers in New York City will be 1953.97 pCi/L.17.

In fact, however, the actual, measured radon concentration in the pipeline at Lambertville, New Jersey, approximately 70 miles before the gas would reach New York City customers by the pipeline extension is only about 17 pCi/L – 115 times less than Resnikoff’s estimate.  The Lambertville radon measurement and the other measurements made along the pipeline clearly demonstrate that Resnikoff’s first two claims, (1) that Marcellus Shale gas has much higher radon concentrations, and (2) that the concentrations remain high because of the short transport distance and decay period, are incorrect.  Even if one accepts Resnikoff’s other two claims, (3) that New York City apartment volumes are smaller than the residential volumes assumed by the EPA, and (4) that the air exchange rate is lower than assumed, the lung cancer risk is still insignificant – approximately 1 chance in 100,000 – a risk level that is considered acceptable by the U.S. EPA.

Spectra Energy retained an independent environmental engineering company (RAdata, Inc.,) to collect samples of natural gas from eight different locations as shown in Fig. 3 and submitted the samples to an independent commercial laboratory (Bowser-Morner, with natural gas samples analyzed by Dr. Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., who is a Certified Health Physicist and specializes in radon measurements) for analysis of radon.  The results are given in Table 4 (see below).  As expected, the concentrations of radon in samples further to the west have higher concentrations than those to the east.  This is partly due to radioactive decay of the radon as the natural gas moves eastward through the pipeline.  It seems clear that the first two samples in Table 4 are the more representative of the concentrations of radon in natural gas as it would enter residences, because these two samples are the closest to the customers in New York City.

It must be remembered that there may not be any increase over the risk that the future customers of this pipeline will receive, as they are likely already using natural gas from other sources.  The actual measured concentration of radon in the existing pipeline is below the average tabulated by Johnson et al. 1973) for the United States.  Thus, the use of natural gas from this pipeline might actually decrease the existing risk.

The sample analyses clearly show that the radon levels in the natural gas are low and will cause no significant health risk.  Further, the sample results directly and factually contradict Resnikoff’s speculative claims.  Most importantly, the sample results support the Commission’s conclusion that radon in natural gas is not a significant concern.

Anspaugh’s Table 4, which demonstrates actual radon levels that are only the tiniest fraction of what Resnikoff’s “study” postulated based on faulty speculative calculations, follow along with a map of testing locations:

Table 4 from Anspaugh Report

Anspaugh Mpa of Testing Locations

Be sure to review Anspaugh’s report, which, despite its scientific depth, is quite readable.  Also, compare his credentials with Resnikoff’s and ask yourself who is the more credible.  Judge for yourself.

Risk Sciences International Report

The Risk Sciences International (RSI) report is summarized nicely in the aforementioned answer to the Sierra Club, et al request to FERC to rehear the case:

The second report was performed by a Risk Sciences International team of radon dose and risk experts, including Dr. Philip Hopke, Clarkson Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at New York’s Clarkson University; Dr. Daniel Krewski, Professor of Risk Assessment at the University of Ottawa; Dr. Don Mattison, former Dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Douglas Chambers, Director of Risk and Radioactivity Studies, SENES Consultants; and other leading scientists.  The second report is a comprehensive assessment of the cancer risk associated with radon in natural gas used in New York State homes based upon multiple exposure scenarios, including the scenario assumed by Resnikoff.  The minimal and maximal radon exposure scenarios considered in the report’s sensitivity analyses lead to lifetime cancer risk range of 8E-07 (i.e., less than 1 chance in 1 million) to 8.95E-05 (i.e., less that 1 chance in 10,000).  This risk range is consonant with the risk range (1E-04 to 1E-06) that the EPA considers “negligible.”  The second report, like the first, is based upon the actual radon levels measured in Texas Eastern’s pipeline near where the extension into the New York area would begin.  This second report provides risk estimates that are generally consistent with previous estimates used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in its previous evaluation of the lung cancer risks associated with radon from natural gas.

What we have then, is nothing less than a total repudiation of Resnikoff’s work.  Radon, just as both FERC and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have previously stated is a non-issue, created by an anti-expert to raise doubts where none properly exist.  Let the testing continue, of course.  It’s in our interest, after all, for the facts to come out.  Three wrong guesses and you’re out, Marvin!





  1. Gudrun Scott says:

    Lynn Anspaugh practices what Shakespeare called :Ye protesteth too much” and starts out with a personal attack at a reputable scientist. It is not science and we see it only too often by oil and gas industry supporters. I was at that same meeting were Dr Resnikoff presented and Larry Schilling VP of Cassella got up and ranted about as senseless and personal as this blog against the scientist. He just happens to be the VP of waste management company that wants to profit from radioactive garbage from Pa hydrofracking being hauled into regular household landfills in NY but he never identified himself – plain bullying and he has a conflict of interest.

    Anshaugh then sites the Johnson et al study of 1973 on shale gas emitting Radon. How much could he have detected since in that year of 1973-likely a vertical well. Horizontal fracking with high volume and pressure was not invented. It was used in the 1990′s in Barnett Shale in Texas. It involves access to over 4,000 feet of shale rock horizontally.Vertical bore hole quickly passing thru the shale layer will have a whole lot less contact with the shale surface area. So one might suspect that the amount of Radon in a horizontal frack could be much higher since it covers a lot more surface than a vertical frack .

    What is needed is to test the radon at the wellhead of a horizontal well of which there are 3,000 plus right there available in Pa. Of course a formal chain of custody should be done to collect the sample as Reagan said- trust but verify.

    The list of concentrations of Radon in various lines on Table 4 are irrelevant because who knows if that gas is from horizontal fracked shale or from the Gulf , decaying for some time any Radon in it or a mix of both. Much more scientific to get a well head sample and so simple that one wonders why the industry is resisting so much to do that and referring to a study done in 1973 before horizontal fracking ?

    Here is a quote from the DSGEIS of 2011 of the DEC in NY Chapter 5 page 117
    “field data from Marcellus Shale flowback water, including data from the MSC Study Report, indicate that … the levels of radioactivity increase, and sometimes exceed Maximum Concentration Limits.”

    I, Gudrun Scott RN and BS in chemistry and MAT degree in science teaching from Yale U , I submitted a comment to the FERC in regards to insufficient data to decide if this gas from the Marcellus shale will present a problem if piped into New York City too fast. Radon could be mitigated by simply storing the natural gas in one of the many natural gas storage fields which are empty Oriskany sandstone that used to hold gas and is used for storage all over NY and Pa. Radon decays with a half life of 3.8 days would decay in the storage field instead of the Manhattan kitchens. ( other radon progeny products also would decay in the storage field as well.)

    The public, especially in New York City deserves to see a well head radon test for horizontal fracked Marcellus shale gas. I will forward my comment here to Governor Cuomo’s office. He might still be able to run for President if he listens to people especially his own base, NYC.

    thank you

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      Lynn Anspaugh did not engage in a personal attack. He simply debunked Resnikoff with facts. Moreover, he could have gone after Resnikoff on a number of issues that he did not choose to address, including the fact the guy has been disqualified as an expert in several matters and has produced material that even I, as a complete laymen on the subject, could see was riddled with errors. Read Ralph Johnson’s report of a few years ago and our earlier post at:


      Also, do you realize much of the gas does get stored before heading into the metro area? That’s what the Owego Stagecoach storage facility is all about, for example. Fluctuating demand requires use of storage to even out flows. Also, your point about the gas being from mixed sources is on the mark but helps our case, not yours. It is precisely because it is mixed that there is no issue. Finally, you very selectively parse the SGEIS information, which did not identify a problem with this issue.


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