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Rules allows special oil radioactive landfills closer to wells

BISMARCK -- A final step in the adoption of health rules for the disposal of radioactive waste in North Dakota would provide oil companies a close-to-the-source disposal option, rather than hauling it to other states.

A meeting of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee is scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday in the Roughrider Room at the State Capitol and the health department is on the agenda starting at 10:45 a.m.

The new rules were drafted this year by the State Health Department to allow special landfills to handle waste with up to 50 picocuries of radioactivity, typically found in oil field byproducts, including filter sock residue, pipe scale, muds and fracking proppants. The health department estimates about 75 tons of such waste is generated daily, even with the sharp decline in rigs drilling in the oil patch.

Vonnie Richter, rules committee coordinator, said the radioactive rules have been vetted by the state's attorney general and the committee’s role is to ensure they follow legislative intent.

Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, said his group will continue to protest the new rules, which he predicts will help turn the state into a Superfund-type clean-up site within five years.

"This was decided the day the oil industry asked for it two and a half years ago. We have the best Legislature and health department oil can buy," he said.

Pending no issues, new rules go into effect Jan. 1 and State Health Department solid waste program manager Scott Radig said his division could start taking applications the first business day in January.

Whether any landfills apply remains to be seen, said Radig, adding that some oil waste landfill operators have expressed interest in modifying their permits under the new rules, but low market conditions for oil could change that intent.

Public notices will be issued when companies request modified or new permits for radioactive materials landfills and the public will be offered a public hearing when the department determines an application meets the necessary criteria, Radig said.