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Minnesota company seeks ND permit to handle radioactive oil well waste

KILLDEER-What if you could dispose of the radioactive waste from oil wells by taking the sludge out of the tank and separating the solids from liquids, leaving the site with less waste to transport, more oil in the tank and a cost savings for eve...

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KILLDEER-What if you could dispose of the radioactive waste from oil wells by taking the sludge out of the tank and separating the solids from liquids, leaving the site with less waste to transport, more oil in the tank and a cost savings for everyone?

That was the pitch offered Thursday night by White Wing Limited at a public meeting in Dunn County. One of the business' owners and representatives from the North Dakota Department of Health fielded public comment, criticism and inquiry on the details of an as-of-yet unproven mobile radioactive waste processing unit.

"White Wing Limited is a company formed specifically to utilize the technology we've developed for the efficient separation of fluids and solids," Brent Lansburg, one of five owners of White Wing and one of two present at the meeting, said in his opening address to a packed room at the Dunn County Shop in Killdeer. "Our system is a trailer-mounted unit that includes heat, vacuum, filtration and storage, all in one package."

This type of unit is a "closed-system," in contrast to the existing fixed-waste processing sites that can do similar work, but with more machines that are separate from each other. This appeals to the Health Department because the technology could reduce the overall waste generated from oil wells, which would result in a safer environment for radioactive waste disposal.

"We aren't handling anything that isn't being handled on a day-to-day basis," Lansburg said. "We're just offering a, in our opinion, better way of handling it ... less material requires less trucks and less truck trips and ultimately less risk."

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Terry O'Clair, director of the Health Department's air quality division, said this could possibly reduce the need for more landfills for radioactive material.

Members of the public had concerns about the proposal. Dr. Larry Heilmann, a molecular biologist from Fargo, said his primary concern is what he sees as a lack of detail about White Wing, its technology and its methods.

"I have approximately 30 years of experience working with radioactive isotopes," Heilmann said. "Admittedly that's different from the TENORM (Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials) being discussed here, but most of the safety regulations and the technical language is the same. ...You must be very specific about what you are going to do," he said. "Step-by-step protocols (must be detailed). If this request ... had crossed my desk, it would have taken me about 15 minutes to return it with a request for more information."

Heilmann asked who the partners and owners of the company are, what their backgrounds are, whether the company is bonded and whether it is financially sturdy enough to front the cost of a spill. He asked who is liable for a spill?

Liability for spills wouldn't wholly fall on White Wing, but would also be taken on by the oil companies that contracted the company. O'Clair said White Wing may be liable to a certain extent, but the burden would be in the hands of the larger oil company and would not be passed on to the taxpayer.

"Another matter that concerns me is White Wing LLC itself," Heilmann said. "White Wing LLC describes itself as a Minnesota trucking company with an address in Excelsior, Minnesota. That address as it turns out is little more than a mail drop in a suburban strip mall."

Lansburg said there is little known about White Wing because it is such a new company. He dismissed any concerns it is a "shell" company attempting to obscure who its principal investors are.

Lansburg identified the five owners of White Wing, which include members of his family as well as the inventor of the technology, Bob Anderson. Anderson attended the public meeting, but did not speak up until questions for Lansburg became more technical.

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Anderson said there is not a significant risk to air quality because the process doesn't have more emissions than other vehicles.

Lansburg was reluctant to speak about certain elements of the process since parts of the unit are still patent-pending. He assured people that the separation process does not use chemicals.

"It's mechanical separation, it is not chemical," he said. "It's got a filter."

If White Wing receives a Health Department permit, it will be able to operate throughout the state on non-tribal lands. The permit would not allow White Wing to operate on reservations.

The Health Department is expected to make a decision on the permit within the month.

Related Topics: DUNN COUNTY
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