North Dakota’s local authorities have brought attention to what they are calling the potentially largest illegal oil waste dumping case in the state’s history after a discovery in an abandoned building of hundreds of radioactive oil filter socks used in the production process.
State waste management authorities are describing the incident as potentially more than twice as large as another illegal dumping incident uncovered in February in McKenzie County.
State Waste Management Director Scott Radig told reporters that hundreds of radioactive oil filter socks were discovered earlier this month stuffed into trash bags in an abandoned auto repair shop in the small town of Noonan in northwestern North Dakota.
“It appears, unfortunately, to be the biggest one we’ve found,” Radig said. “And it appears to have been there for quite some time.”
Disposal of these radioactive oil socks is banned in North Dakota, and oil companies are required to transport them to approved waste facilities in other states, where landfills allow for a higher level of radioactivity.
Officials said the illegally dumped oil socks were tested for low levels of radioactivity, and that they presented no danger to the public unless directly handled.
The owner of the abandoned building is reportedly a felony fugitive—Ken Ward--who is suspected of doing “independent work” for the oil and gas industry.
“I suspect that [Ward] was doing contract work for some oil company and he told them he would — I’m sure for a price — take these and properly dispose of them,” Radig speculated. “He did it the cheap way, took the money and took off.”
According to local health officials, the oil production boom in the state has led to increasing incidents of illegal dumping, with cases of radioactive oil socks being found along roadsides, in abandoned buildings or in commercial trash bins.
In the meantime, state officials are working on new rules to better enable them to track oil field waste, with a draft due to be released to the public in June.
By. James Stafford of Oilprice.com