BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — In a controversial move, North Dakota regulators approved a permit for a landfill that aims to become the state’s first to accept radioactive oilfield waste. Typically, the waste has been shipped out-of-state for disposal.
Secure Energy Services, a Canadian company, still must obtain a $1.125 million bond to dispose of radioactive material at its 13-Mile Landfill, which already accepts other types of waste generated by oil development, said Diana Trussell, who heads the state Department of Environmental Quality’s solid waste program.
The agency on Monday renewed the company’s permit for its existing landfill and also gave it permission to dispose of up to 25,000 tons of radioactive oilfield waste annually if it can secure the required bonding.
Low levels of radiation that naturally occur in soil, water and rocks can become concentrated during oil and gas production, creating a category of waste that no state landfills until now have been allowed to accept despite a 2016 rule modification — backed by the state’s oil industry — that increased the allowable concentrations of technologically enhanced radioactive material that can be disposed of at approved landfills by tenfold, which state officials say is still safe for humans and the environment.
About 100,000 tons of radioactive oil field waste is produced in the state each year, which typically has been trucked to other states for disposal. In some cases, it has been disposed of illegally.
Critics aren’t convinced its safe for the environment and water sources to place the oilfield waste in landfills.
“There are no safe radioactive facilities,” said Darrell Dorgan, a member of the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, a watchdog group critical of oilfield waste dumping. “All we are doing now is saving oil companies money by not having to ship it out of state.”
The closest state that allows such dumping is Montana.
“If they are dumb enough in Montana to take it, we should keep sending it there,” Dorgan said.
The facility near Williston would be the second location in North Dakota to accept radioactive oilfield waste, but the first landfill.
A slurry well started operating near Watford City last year. It processes the waste with saltwater, another unwanted byproduct of oil and gas production, and the mixture is then injected 7,500 feet deep.
Trussell said unlike the landfill, the slurry well is unable to accept equipment contaminated with radioactivity, such as pipe and “anything else associated with drilling activity.”
At the landfill, the radioactive material would be placed at least 10 feet below ground and covered with a 5-foot cover made up of clay and other soils capable of sustaining vegetation.