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As if North Dakota hasn’t been the topic of numerous oil news headlines in recent weeks, it’s making headlines again—this time for some radioactive nuclear elements that was found in oilfield dump sites—elements that occur in the waste from oil and gas wells.
North Dakota has had a problem with the inappropriate disposal of this radioactive waste for years. This time, the State Health Department of North Dakota is probing an oilfield waste landfill operated by IHD Solids Management after the detection of a significant amount of illegal radioactive matter.
The radioactive material was detected twice in two separate inspections that took place in May and June. Now the HD has ordered a third-party inspection of the landfill and instructed the operator to remove 950 tons of waste and take it out of the state, after radioactivity checks of all 12 oilfield waste landfills in the state revealed levels of between 5 and 80 picocuries, the latter standing 30 picocuries above the new maximum allowed for oilfield waste.
But the 50-picocurie limit is a fairly new—and quite controversial—approved in January, and oilfield waste landfill operators have yet to apply for permits under the new requirement. Currently, they have permits that don’t allow them to have more than 5 picocuries of radioactivity at the landfills.
According to Steve Tillotson, assistant director at the State Health Department, IHD Solids Management was unaware of the radioactivity levels of the waste it manages at the landfill. “We caught them in two inspections with different materials. They’re supposed to know what they’re getting, and I’m surprised about this,” he said, adding that “Somebody slipped it to ’em. I don’t think they took this knowingly.”
Tillotson said the company will not be fined for the transgression because it dealt with the problem by removing the suspicious waste, as did two other landfill operators in North Dakota, Secure Energy and Gibson Energy. They too had to remove over-radioactive material from their landfills and ship it to special nuclear waste facilities.
Prudently, if not a tad belatedly, North Dakota will soon start requiring oilfield waste landfill operators to verify the radioactivity level of every load that arrives, rather than taking the word of the company generating the waste for it.
The waste from oil and gas wells include uranium, thorium, radium, a radioactive isotope of potassium, as well as isotopes of lead and polonium. These are naturally occurring elements that are brought to the surface through fracking.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.