By Amy Dalrymple
BISMARCK — State health officials are moving up their timeline on setting new rules for radioactive waste generated in the oilfield, prompted by recent stockpiling of waste and other illegal dumping incidents.
The proposed rules, which will be available for public comment in June, will enhance the state’s ability to track the generation, storage, transportation and disposal of waste containing naturally occurring radioactive material, the North Dakota Department of Health said Wednesday.
The health department was waiting for results of an independent study before proceeding with new rules, but the recent stockpiling of oilfield waste known as filter socks in McKenzie County and other incidents prompted officials to address some rules sooner, said Scott Radig, director of the Division of Waste Management.
The details are still being worked out, but the goal is to require all companies that generate waste containing the radioactive material to be registered or licensed with the state, Radig said.
Those companies would be required to keep records on how much of the waste is generated, where it is stored, who transports it, where it’s transported and verification that it was delivered to the proper site, Radig said.
“I think most companies are probably keeping those records, but obviously there are some companies out there that aren’t,” Radig said.
The health department has similar “cradle to grave” rules for companies that generate large quantities of hazardous waste, Radig said.
Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition that has raised concerns about illegal dumping incidents, said the state health department has “failed miserably” at tracking radioactive waste.
“They should have been doing that three, four, five years ago,” Dorgan said of the proposed new rules. “They have completely lost track of it.”
The health department is investigating filter socks containing naturally occurring radioactive waste that were stockpiled on trailers owned by RP Services in McKenzie County. The filter socks came from wells operated by Continental Resources, Radig said.
An attorney for Continental Resources, the top oil producer in the Bakken headed by CEO Harold Hamm, said last week the company has suspended RP Services as a contractor pending the outcome of the investigation.
The health department could take enforcement action against one or both companies, but currently state officials are focused on ensuring the waste is properly handled and the site is cleaned up.
Although the health department’s new rules are expected to be ready for public comment in June, it could be fall before they take effect, Radig said. After the public comment period, they need review by the Attorney General’s Office, approval from a legislative committee and other steps, Radig said.
“Even though we’re moving this up, it does take a significant period of time,” Radig said.
After a study from Argonne National Laboratory is complete, which is anticipated for the end of this summer, the health department will likely begin developing a second set of rules related to the naturally occurring radioactive material, Radig said.
Kari Cutting, vice president for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the industry group looks forward to the study from Argonne to provide the science for further rule-making. In the meantime, the industry group also supports a rule that would require record-keeping of the waste.
“We have a lot of companies that already do track, so this really isn’t a new concept to them,” Cutting said. “It essentially levels the playing field so that everybody is doing it the same way.”
Jerry Samuelson, emergency manager for McKenzie County who responds to illegal dumping incidents, called the proposed new rules to track the waste “long overdue.”
Samuelson said he’d like to see the state implement a similar rule to track produced water, another byproduct from oil production that is sometimes illegally dumped in counties in northwest North Dakota.
Also Wednesday, health investigators met with RP Services to discuss the filter socks in McKenzie County. The waste, which cannot be disposed of in North Dakota, has been stored in appropriate sealed containers since health inspectors visited the site in late February.
RP Services, which is not licensed to haul the waste to a disposal facility, has now made arrangements with a licensed company to handle the material and transport it to an approved landfill in Idaho, Radig said.
All of the visually contaminated soil has been cleaned up, Radig said. RP Services is required to submit a written plan to health officials by the end of next week detailing the cleanup, Radig said.
RP Services had been accumulating the filter socks since sometime last year after the company began offering a new service, which involved filtering flowback water during well testing, Radig said. The waste was not stored properly, but piled on trailers and dripping contaminants on the ground.
RP Services only performed that service for wells operated by Continental Resources, Radig said.
“I was told that they (Continental Resources) were not aware that filter socks were being generated during this portion of the operation,” Radig said.
RP Services has not responded to several attempts seeking comment. Continental Resources did not answer questions from Forum News Service last week about how it verifies that filter socks are properly disposed of.
Radig said it’s his understanding that Continental Resources does contract with a licensed radiation contractor to handle disposal at other locations, including salt water disposal wells.
“For some reason, it didn’t happen at these wells,” Radig said.