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Water down the issue: County, transportation officials meet to discuss dust problem

By Katherine Lymn on Feb 25, 2014 at 11:41 p.m.

KILLDEER — As representatives from oil-impacted western North Dakota counties discussed road issues at a round-table meeting Tuesday, one issue hovered in the air: dust.

Using oilfield-produced water to prevent dust on country roads is one solution getting tried out in various counties, county and North Dakota Department of Transportation officials said at the meeting at Killdeer’s Buckskin Bar and Grill.

Produced water from some wells is close to the chemical composition of what is already used to tamp down dust — with certain levels of calcium and magnesium.

A well north of Belfield, near Fairfield, might work for Stark County, for example. And the county’s road superintendent, Al Heiser, has interest in using the water for dust.

Fritz Schmidt with the state Department of Transportation, is studying the best way to use the water for dust — looking at different mixtures with gravel and freshwater.

Finding a way to reuse water that’s already a byproduct of drilling could save money for counties dealing with roads that get dusty from trucks in the same industry.

McKenzie County engineer Suhail Kanwar said the county budgeted $2 million just this year for dust control.

Oil companies also have to agree to give the counties the brine.

“Some of the companies, yes, they will give us brinewater,” said Mike Zimmerman, road superintendent for Dunn County.

In some cases, the companies want liability waivers because of the environmental or health risks.

Because the water can harm the environment — spills of brine water at well sites must be reported as environmental incidents — the state health department regulates the use of brine for dust control.

“It just puts a lot of burden on the county to make sure this all goes right,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said he and some Dunn County commissioners also worry about risks associated with hydrogen sulfide, commonly referred to H2S, a poisonous gas that occurs naturally in oil and gas.

Other issues came up at the meeting, like the best way to mix gravel that sustains truck traffic and rainy weather. County commissioners and road officials shared success stories and troubleshooted issues, from dealing with the influx of new, young contractors to the best kinds of machines to use.

The main purpose of the meeting Tuesday — and of organizer North Dakota Local Technical Assistance Program — was to share information, said Dale Heglund, director of the program.

He said with a projected increase from 10,000 wells currently to up to 60,000 wells in the state, “your roadways are gonna continue to be impacted.”

Counties face road problems worsening faster than they can afford to keep up with.

“No one person can solve that, and that’s the impetus of this meeting,” Heglund said.

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