WILLISTON, N.D. — Williams County commissioners have tabled a decision on a conditional use permit for a radioactive oilfield waste facility in Williams County, pending review of recommendations submitted by an attorney who represents some families living near the facility.
Secure Energy needs both county and state permits to begin disposing of low-level radioactive wastes at the 13 Mile Landfill, 14 miles north of Williston. Step one is an amended conditional use permit from Williams County.
Commissioners heard nearly two hours of testimony during their regular session on Tuesday, Nov. 19, in a packed meeting room.
Braaten attorney Carey Goetz, representing the Borrud family and unspecified other families living near Secure Energy’s 13 Mile Landfill, said recent news reports about a facility in Montana where elevated chlorides have been detected in the water raises questions about such facilities.
Chlorides are not radioactive waste, but they do come with oilfield waste, she said. Their presence means that the safeguards that were in place aren’t working.
Because of that, Goetz said her clients feel there is not enough information to approve technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM, facilities in general. But, if the commission is going to approve it anyway, the family has additional conditions they’d like to see.
Those conditions are based on two independent assessments of the Indian Hills Disposal Solids Management Facility in McKenzie County. McKenzie County and Tri Township each hired consultants to review the IHD proposal, which the Braaten law firm said are applicable to the 13 Mile facility.
Some of the recommendations might be “doubling up,” Goetz said, but she doesn’t see the downside.
“This is a genie that once let out of the bottle is hard to remediate,” she said. “Cleaning up is never going to put you back where you were before the contamination.”
Among the recommendations is for a liner that is analyzed by engineers and goes back to the County Commission for approval.
Dorothy Kuester, who lives near the facility, said that in her experience oilfield companies don’t always do what they say they will.
Among these experiences was a pipeline that went into the wrong location.
“It was my lawyer and my fees to get that remediated,” she said.
There was also a saltwater spill at 13 Mile corner, she added.
“We have pipeline breaks throughout the Bakken, and we also know that people make mistakes and in the cold equipment fails,” she said. “It becomes an issue of when will the next disaster occur?”
Julie Keller, meanwhile, talked about the company’s compliance issues, as well as the lifespan of the material.
“If we could put this all into a box and put a lid on it and store it away for 3,000 years and never have any problems with it, we wouldn’t be here discussing this,” she said. “The issue is not something you can put in a box and put away.”
Keller said 30 years of monitoring would be inadequate for material whose lifespan extends to 3,000 years.
“We have to have a plan for when this does close and when we do have this mess, because we are going to have to deal with it,” she said.
Commissioners, meanwhile, talked about the economic viability of TENORM facilities, as well as the responsibilities of landowners who have accepted royalty checks.
“I think it is pretty bold of us to create this waste and then dump it on our Montana neighbors,” Commissioner Barry Ramberg said. “We need to come up with a way to handle the problems we create ourselves.”
Commissioner Beau Anderson agreed with that on the one hand. But he is also a farmer, with a landfill in his own backyard, albeit a different company’s. He wants to be sure all conditions are there that should be.
He made a motion to deny the request as written, and to consider recommendations from Braaten.
That was defeated 3 to 2, with Ramberg and Anderson voting in favor and Chairman David Montgomery and Commissioners Cory Hanson and Steven Kemp voting against.
Montgomery said his chief concern relates to the economic feasibility of TENORM facilities if the amount of the material itself is limited. He was told by state officials that less than 20,000 tons of the material are being trucked out presently.
However, Secure Energy itself trucked out 22,000 tons in the past 12 months, an amount that is close to the 25,000-ton limit the facility can accept in one year.
Diana Trussell, solid waste manager for the Division of Waste Management, clarified the matter. There were some issues converting from cubic yards to tonnage. She recalculated the numbers, which actually range from 60,000 tons to 109,000 tons depending on the year.
Montgomery suggested there should be a cap on the number of such facilities.
Ramberg agreed, adding the last thing the state needs is dozens of TENORM facilities “all running at going broke.”
Kemp asked why the lifespan of the pit’s liner doesn’t match with the post-closure monitoring period of 30 years. Trussell said the state can extend the length of the post-closure monitoring period if the site is still generating leachate.
Hanson suggested overall safety will be improved if TENORM isn’t trucked long distances.
Hanson made a second motion to table the permit until the Dec. 3 Commission meeting, pending a review of the Braaten firm’s recommendations for additional requirements. That passed unanimously.