THEIR OPINION: N.D. needs new rules for oil waste pits
BISMARCK -- The time has come to stop putting drilling fluids from oil wells in waste pits at well sites. New rules were proposed by the North Dakota Industrial Commission this week, and now those higher standards will go through a public hearing...
BISMARCK -- The time has come to stop putting drilling fluids from oil wells in waste pits at well sites.
New rules were proposed by the North Dakota Industrial Commission this week, and now those higher standards will go through a public hearing process.
Next spring, those rules should be put into place for all future drilling.
We're talking a waste pit the size of a swimming pool capable of handling 650 tons of sandstone and shale and 200 barrels of liquid, a mix of various chemicals and waste water.
Figure there's a pit for every solo well drilled, in theory. The state has 18,000 wells and expects to drill another 15,000 holes.
The prospect of having thousands of waste pits spread across western North Dakota makes a strong case for use of a semi-closed loop system that separates the liquid and solid waste at the rig. The sandstone and shale borings still could be buried at the well site, but the liquid would be hauled to a disposal site.
As of now, the liquid isn't pumped off until the waste pit is covered over, within a year of being opened.
The rules add cost. Ron Ness of the North Dakota Petroleum Council estimates they add between $100,000 and $300,000 to the expense of well drilling. Those costs need to be weighed against the impact of the waste pits on reclaiming land for agriculture and the damage done when waste pits are overflowed, as some were this spring when there was a heavy snowmelt.
In a Tribune story on Sunday, one oil-industry specialist estimated that half of the wells being drilled now already separate out liquids at the rig and truck out the waste liquid. It's also a requirement of multi-well platforms.
The new rules, extended to single-well sites, seem to be the next logical step.
The new rules will not make the drilling of oil wells hazard-free.
By its nature, exploration and production of crude oil is disruptive and potentially harmful on many levels.
So, good rules are important. The new drilling rules, proposed by the state Department of Mineral Resources, deal directly with a drilling problem in a practical, effective and commonsense fashion.
The costs added by the proposed rules are justified by what's accomplished: a clearer, safer drilling process.
-- The Bismarck Tribune