2014 June 13

The Master Resource Report 2014-06-13

The Bakken’s radioactive problem

When you talk to folks who have visited or worked in the booming oil fields of North Dakota they report it being like the Wild, Wild West. And like any gold rush period government and environmental regulation enforcement runs way behind the curve.

Associated Press: People have been caught nearly 150 times in the past year attempting to illegally dump loads of oil field waste — much of it radioactive — at two of the biggest landfills in western North Dakota, records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press show. None of the incidents resulted in fines or other sanctions from the state, and the most regulators required was that offenders promise to properly dispose of the waste, officials said.

The biggest problem is the growing volume of illegal disposal of filter socks. These are tubular mesh nets that filter the liquids produced from the oil wells.  In the process of straining out solid material the filter socks also become contaminated with radioactive waste that is extracted with the petroleum liquids.

Since there are no licensed disposal sites in North Dakota they need to hauled to the nearest approved disposal sites in other states such as Montana which allow radioactive waste in their landfills. But for some apparently the cost and the drive are just too far so they dump them illegally along the road or in dumps not designed to accept the waste.

For now North Dakota is remaining firm on its restrictions on radioactive waste disposal but this issue will not go away and must be resolved in the near future as the number of wells move beyond the current 10,000 plus.

While most operators are conforming to regulations concerning waste disposal there will always be those that will go out of their way to avoid compliance. If the industry doesn’t help bring these operators into compliance they will all suffer and the cost they face will be escalated further.