By Harvey Brock
Last spring I wrote about visiting the Williston Basin Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan. Beyond learning a heck of a lot about the industry, it was an opportunity to visit towns along the way that receive our publication, “The Drill.”
Noonan is located in Divide County at the intersection of N.D. Highways 5 and 40. I remember it had a few businesses and a couple of bars. I remember thinking, compared to some of the other small towns I drove through, it really hadn’t been impacted by the oil boom. I had heard the bars were serving food because oilfield workers were living in houses that had been empty for years.
On Feb. 28, Divide County Emergency Manager Jody Gunlock received a tip about hundreds of radioactive filter socks used in oil drilling in an abandoned Noonan gas station. At about five times the radiation level of natural background soil in the area, the socks registered at twice the radiation of the filter socks discovered stockpiled near Watford City last month, according to Scott Radig, director of waste management for the North Dakota Department of Health.
I have to agree with Gunlock’s opinion that the disposal was intentional and not accidental. With apologies to Noonan, the town is not really a destination point, and it is fortunate residents were lucky that someone tipped off authorities because it could have gone on longer and became even more hazardous.
One has to wonder where else contaminants like this are being illegally dumped across the state. Western North Dakota is a huge, isolated, geographical area. It is hard to believe that there aren’t many more such sites with the greed and lack of concern for the environment that is becoming seemingly more commonplace here.
The people of Noonan and North Dakota should be able to live without fear of environmental hazards in their towns.
Ironically, cleaning up the site will be done at the state’s expense because the alleged owner of the filter socks is a fugitive wanted for felony larceny charges who escaped law enforcement custody in Wyoming. Whether he knew the dumping was occurring or not, he can’t be the only one culpable. He didn’t drill the wells. Accidents happen, but oil companies working in oil development within the Bakken need to understand that violating the rules and regulations in place to protect our state will not be tolerated.
Companies that knowingly put the environment at risk and those companies who contract with them should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and should no longer be allowed to do business in North Dakota.