By Lauren Donovan, The Bismark Tribune
NOONAN — A radiation team cleaning up an illegal oil field waste dump site in Noonan found an underground cache of the material and labels that are possible evidence of companies that contributed to the mess.
The cleanup was expected to take all day Wednesday, with a crew of six workers in oil-streaked suits and respirators pulling tons of low-level radioactive filter socks from an abandoned gas station in this tiny town near the Canadian border.
The dump was discovered in late February and state and local officials started looking for the culprit and making plans to get the material safely disposed.
The property owner is a criminal fugitive in Wyoming and the state is using its own clean up funds instead of forcing the owner to deal with the situation.
Robert Krumberger, manager for Secure Energy Services, said his workers soon uncovered an underground sump area in the old garage, which also was full of the filter socks. He said he called for additional lined containers and estimated the building contained 60 cubic yards of filter sock waste, instead of the 40 originally estimated.
The $12,500 cleanup cost would increase some as a result, he said. His workers also found some labels and packaging that was turned over to the Divide County Sheriff’s Department, which is continuing to investigate the matter.
The dreary scene at the ramshackle building, with tattered crime scene tape fluttering in chilly wind and spattering of rain, drew some attention from passersby. The white suited workers, all wearing face masks, steadily worked to clear the dilapidated building of the hundreds of black-plastic garbage bags stuffed with the filter socks.
Krumberger said the last step will be to conduct a radiological survey and remove soil, if necessary, to get radiation readings back down to normal in the old building. He said more tests will be done, but it appears the material is about two to four times more radioactive than is normal background, not unusual for oil field materials.
Noonan Fire Chief Barry Eide and councilman Billy Espeseth, who both work in the elevator across the street, said the dump didn’t worry them, but they were glad to see it cleaned up just the same.
“It’s just disrespectful, but there’s not much we can do. I’m bothered that someone would do that,” Espeseth said.
The fire chief, Eide, said he hopes the cleanup is thorough and that eventually the building can go, too. “Personally, that’s more of an issue to me than the stuff inside,” he said.
Jody Gunlock, Divide County emergency manager, said once all the filter socks are safely removed and the survey shows the building is radiation-free, it can be demolished and landfilled.
“The biggest concern is that it’s cleaned up so it’s not contaminated,” Gunlock said. “I’m just glad it will be gone.” He said it’s hard to imagine what would be involved if the building itself had to be disposed of at a regulated landfill out of state.
Inspectors from both the State Health Department and the Oil and Gas Division were at the scene.
John Axtman, Oil and Gas district supervisor from Williston, said he was watching to be sure the cleanup and disposal were done properly.
He said he was impressed with what he was seeing. “They’re going to do this correctly,” he said.
Krumberger said the containers would be removed Wednesday after all the filter socks and any contaminated soil were cleared off the site. The materials will be disposed of at a U.S. Ecology waste site in Idaho.
Filter socks are banned from disposal in North Dakota because they tend to concentrate naturally occurring radiation beyond the state’s threshold. This is not the first illegal dump reported, but it is so far the largest. The state is taking steps to correct the problem.