North Dakota State health officials approved new rules which would allow for the disposal of radioactive oilfield waste in certain landfills on Tuesday, reports the Forum News Service.
In a unanimous decision, the State Health Council voted to adopt rules allowing for the disposal of waste registering radioactivity levels of up to 50 picocuries per gram. The new level is 10 times greater than the current limit, which forced companies to transport waste out of state. The council and its 11 members act as the governing and advisory body for the North Dakota Department of Health.
As reported by the Associated Press, North Dakota generates up to 75 tons of radioactive waste on a daily basis, the majority of which comes from filter socks that strain liquids during the oil production process. Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt says the new and elevated standard is still safe for humans and the environment. The state has 13 landfills that accept special or industrial waste, all of which will have to apply for a permit modification to take in the materials with higher radioactivity.
The oil and gas industry has backed the increased limits meant to prevent illegal dumping. Last year, hundreds of filter socks were dumped illegally at an abandoned building in Noonan, North Dakota. Opponents of the rules, however, aren’t convinced that the increased levels are in the public’s best interest. Darrell Dorgan, member of the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, a watchdog group, said, “We could end up being the dumping ground in North Dakota for a lot of other states.” The new limit, though, is still relatively low compared to Texas and Washington, which have limits set at 10,000 picocuries.
The proposed rules would require tracking the hazardous materials from where they originated to the collection sites. Companies transporting the waste would need to be licensed with the Radiation Control Program, be HazMat endorsed, have a trained radiation officer on staff and register with the Secretary of State. Additionally, these firms would need to file quarterly load reports to the NDDoH that specify the waste manifest number, load weight, and both pickup and drop off dates.
Earlier this year, Glatt explained, “Currently, approved landfills can accept waste of up to 5 picocuries per gram, which is approximately equivalent to background radiation. Extremely low standards were established because of a lack of available scientific data at the time … Our proposed rules are based on the best available science and will allow for the responsible and safe disposal of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material generated in North Dakota.”
The rules could possibly go into effect by January of 2016, said Glatt. However, the new regulations still need to be approved by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee. The new rules are based on a $182,000 state-funded study conducted by Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratories. The study examined the risk of exposing radioactive oilfield waste to landfill workers and the public.