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FNS Photo by Amy Dalrymple Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, testifies to a legislative committee on Tuesday in Minot about the disposal of filter socks.

State clamps down on oilfield waste: Rules specify leak-proof containers for filter socks

By Amy Dalrymple 

BISMARCK – North Dakota announced new rules Wednesday for oilfield waste known as filter socks that aim to prevent the illegal stockpiles of the waste that have been turning up in remote corners of the Oil Patch.

Starting June 1, oil, gas and saltwater disposal wells will be required to have covered, leak-proof containers designated for disposal of filter socks, which are known to contain naturally occurring radioactive material.

The new permit requirement from the Oil and Gas Division of the Department of Mineral Resources will require the containers for saltwater disposal wells at all times. The containers will be required for oil and gas wells during the drilling and completion processes, the stages when filter socks are used.

Communities in western North Dakota have reported numerous incidents of illegal dumping of filter socks, including the recent discovery of an abandoned gas station in the Divide County town of Noonan where the waste was stockpiled.

Mountrail County Commissioner David Hynek told a legislative committee this week that the county recently paid for the disposal of 30 filter socks discovered on a township road near New Town.

“Something needs to be done about this issue, whether it’s having a severe enough penalty put in place to cause folks to rethink what they’re doing,” Hynek said Tuesday during a meeting of the Interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee in Minot.

The new requirement aims to promote compliance with state law, which requires the waste to be hauled out of state to appropriate landfills.

“It’s cutting down on that chance that someone will choose to dispose of it illegally,” said Alison Ritter, Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman.

Companies that don’t comply with the new requirement could face penalties, Ritter said.

The North Dakota Department of Health also is developing new rules related to disposal of radioactive waste generated in the oilfield. The department plans to announce proposed rules in June that relate to “cradle to grave” tracking requirements for the waste.

The health department also notified oil companies March 13 that they must use waste haulers licensed by the health department.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, told legislators this week that companies purchase a filter sock for $1.80 but need to pay between $180 to $600 to dispose of it in Texas or Idaho or another state that accepts the waste.

Ness said the state should adopt a method of handling the waste while holding companies accountable for illegal dumping.

“Let’s figure out a North Dakota solution for a North Dakota waste,” Ness told the committee.

The health department also has hired Argonne National Laboratory to study naturally occurring radioactive material generated in the oilfield, which is expected to guide an additional set of state rules related to the waste.

The estimated cost to clean up the abandoned filter socks in Noonan is about $12,600, which will be paid for by an Oil and Gas Division fund for abandoned oil and gas wells and site restoration.

The fund comes from oil and gas taxes, penalties from violations and fees collected by the Oil and Gas Division. The fund is capped at $75 million with $5 million available per year.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, vice chairman of the legislative committee that met this week, asked staff to prepare a bill draft that would increase the funding available. Porter suggested raising the cap of the fund to $150 million and making $10 million available per year for situations such as the abandoned waste in Noonan.

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