North Dakota regulators have taken a big step forward this year by proposing regulations for the management of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, commonly referred to as TENORM. TENORM is a concentrated form of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) and results when low-level radioactive elements are produced with fluids from the wellbore and accumulate as the result of filtration, scaling or settling.
“Waste generation by the oil and gas industry and its service providers has put industrial waste management at the forefront of issues for western North Dakota,” says Laura Erickson, owner of Plains Energy Technical Resources, LLC, an oil and gas regulatory consulting firm based in Williston, North Dakota. Permitting of salt water disposals, E&P waste treating plants and special waste landfills has occurred at a frenzied pace in western North Dakota since about 2011. During that year, the rapid pace of drilling activity, coupled with modified regulation on pits, opened a market for third-party treatment and recycling of drill cuttings, E&P liquids and frac flowback.
As the Bakken boom has developed, fracturing technology has steadily advanced, resulting in accelerated “drill to completion” rates and unprecedented initial production volumes for unconventional well development in our state. Roughly three years ago, as activity was peaking, municipal landfill operators in western North Dakota collectively waved a red flag about waste loads crossing their gates. They had determined that some industry waste loads were radioactive. Before long, it was determined that filter socks, frac sand and, at times, the empty super sacs within which the proppant had been delivered were radioactive, albeit at relatively low levels. Once the nature of this waste stream was brought to light, and without any other legal means to dispose of this waste within our state, the industry was forced to look beyond state lines for disposal options. This prompted the process of out-of-state truck transport of TENORM waste, a practice that has added truck traffic to the already congested and overburdened transportation infrastructure in western North Dakota.
Since the discovery that TENORM can be present in sludge, frac sand, scale and sediments captured by filter socks, regulators in North Dakota began taking steps to establish a regulatory framework that can appropriately support industry activity while ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the public and future generations. The proposed TENORM regulations will provide North Dakota operators a compliance framework by formally defining TENORM, and providing detail about who, what, where, when, and how the waste can be safely handled and disposed.
TENORM regulation will allow the Department of Health to:
- Plan for and regulate storage, collection, transportation, and disposal of TENORM
- Protect public health, safety, and the environment from risks associated with TENORM
- Provide planning and technical assistance for TENORM management
- Authorize plans and issue permits for facilities associated with all stages of TENORM management
In addition, the proposed “Landfill Disposal of TENORM waste” rules are important in that they will establish the following:
- Safe limits for TENORM waste and equipment
- Specific criteria for safe landfill operations to minimize risk to landfill workers and future uses and users of that land
- Reasonable and responsible reporting protocols
- Parameters for training and safety programs for landfill workers
Since there are no long-term guarantees that other states will continue accepting North Dakota-generated waste, these rules are timely and necessary for proper management of TENORM wastes, protection of workers and the environment.
Plains Energy Technical Resources, LLC is a Williston-based oil and gas regulatory, compliance, and training firm and has been involved in regulatory affairs for over 15 years. Plains Energy specializes in drilling and salt water disposal permits, case file preparation, facility construction and modifications, and operational regulatory obligations and compliance. To learn more about Plains Energy Technical Resources, LLC and it’s suite of services, click here.