BISMARCK-Funding for a pilot program on remediation of land spoiled by oil-drilling saltwater pits was recommended Thursday by the North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Program board.

The board passed its recommendation of awarding $500,000 to the Energy and Environmental Research Center's proposal to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

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The EERC's proposal was recommended by a 3-2 vote over one proposed by North Dakota State University's School of Natural Resource Sciences. The meeting was held at the Department of Mineral Resources office in Bismarck.

The funding comes from legislation passed during the last session to address the remediation issue. Saltwater brine is a byproduct of oil and natural gas production and is many times saltier than seawater. Numerous spills have occurred over the years, including a few large ones in the past decade of more than 1 million gallons.

EERC senior research manager Jay Almlie said the project would begin in September and last through June 2017. It would take place at the Wiley Field area in Bottineau County, near Renville. A test site would include two 1.5 acre sites and a one half-acre site.

"It is anticipated that this demonstration will provide a blueprint for remediation of other legacy brine pits in Renville and Bottineau counties," Almlie said. "The affected soils will be remediated and made conductive to native seed germination, restoring the site to fertile condition."

The first 1.5 acre site would include use of biodegradable matter, tilling to get the matter into the ground, a tile drainage system and irrigation system and use of mulch. The other 1.5 acre site would include more shallow use of matter, little or no irrigation and no subsurface drainage.

On the one half-acre site hydraulic injection of calcium and organic matter would be utilized.

Fin Dooley, coordinator for the Salted Lands Council, an environmental group focused on saltwater spills, said before the meeting he preferred the NDSU proposal because it would provide students and staff valuable experience on the issue, which could lead to effective remediation methods down the road.

"Many times in Bottineau County efforts to reclaim the land have failed," said Dooley, adding he believed NDSU's expertise was better suited for the task.

"It's going to bring NDSU off the track," Dooley said of giving the project to the EERC.

NDSU professor Kevin Sedivec outlined the university's proposal. Using a minimum of six sites, methods including leaching, application of manure and using an NDSU-developed method of facilitating the movement of salts to the surface to be removed would be utilized.

The university's greenhouse would be used to study what plants could be used to decrease salt concentration while lab work would be conducted to evaluate which products on the market are most effective.

"There's been work done before, but we haven't really answered the question very thoroughly," said Sedivec, adding that whatever solution is ultimately discovered will "need to be accessible and feasible for farmers and ranchers."