Neither hype nor downplay ‘radwaste’s’ risks
WILLISTON -- Incidents regarding Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or TENORM have generated concern among western North Dakotans.
WILLISTON - Incidents regarding Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or TENORM have generated concern among western North Dakotans.
The media have reported on several businesses haphazardly discarding TENORM waste, blatantly violating North Dakota solid waste disposal regulations.
These incidents have been sensationalized by some reports and letters, creating a misunderstanding of basic facts about dangers and risk to the public.
The facts are these:
TENORM presents low risk to the average oil worker and lower risk to a non-oil worker. But those working directly around TENORM are at increased risk of breathing or ingesting particulates, underscoring the need for worker training, the use of personal protective equipment and a proactive approach to responsible management of this waste.
Oil and Gas TENORM follows two major pathways: produced water and gas streams. North Dakota currently supports 500-plus salt water disposal wells, a quarter of them being commercial. Fluids are filtered prior to disposal, generating millions of filters socks annually.
Haphazard disposal of these filters raises the risk of inadvertent inhalation or ingestion by the public and is a completely preventable risk.
Before proposing major policy changes, state officials have commissioned Argonne National Laboratory to conduct a risk assessment relative to landfill disposal in North Dakota. In the meantime, our state and local leaders need to cooperatively develop a powerful, safety-based communication strategy, effective interim policy for safer management of these wastes and enforcement actions with teeth.
These activities can and should happen while awaiting results from Argonne.
One thing is certain: reactive regulation likely would be ineffective, overreaching and overly restrictive. While municipal landfill operators have reacted swiftly (and rightly) by steeply increasing fines for illegal dumping at their facilities, state regulators and local officials should work with industry and TENORM specialists to develop policies to protect workers and the public.
In a perfect world, good policy for TENORM management would be in place today. In the real world, policymaking takes time. That notwithstanding, the time has come to establish a dependable framework for managing TENORM responsibly, and we owe it to our communities to explain how we’re going to arrive at that destination.
In the meantime, we as an industry ask the media to provide balance to their reporting. Yes, TENORM disposal has issues to address, but is all of western North Dakota going to be designated a Superfund site? No.
Are we all going to be wearing lead aprons in the near future? No.
The media has a responsibility to provide content to inform and educate, rather than incite a populace with stories that misrepresent risk to the public.
Erickson owns Plains Energy Technical Resources in Williston.