Conservation group calls for review of oil regulations
A conservation group is calling for a review of the state’s enforcement of regulations of the oil and gas industry.
On Friday, the Dakota Resource Council called for the formation of a legislative committee to investigate the relationship between regulators and industry and for a performance audit of the North Dakota Department of Health, alleging a failed regulatory response to illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks.
A health department official dismissed te need for suchaction, saying the department has nearly completed a study of its regulation of radioactive oilfield waste. As a result, new regulations are likely on the way.
The DRC’s call is in response to last week’s New York Times report on North Dakota’s regulatory regime that alleged a cozy relationship between the state and industry and lenient penalties for infractions.
Darrell Dorgan, chairman of the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition and a Dakota Resource Council member, said the state needs to up its game in regulating the industry.
Dorgan took aim at state officials who denounced the Times’ reporting earlier this week.
“Rather than just say we have strong regulations, let’s put it out there and prove it,” Dorgan said. “If you don’t enforce them, then it’s meaningless.”
David Glatt, head of the environmental health section of the North Dakota Department of Health, said a study of radioactive material is complete and will be made public within a few weeks.
A series of public meetings will be held in January to gather feedback before preparing a set of proposed administrative rule changes.
“For this, we’ll have the proposed regulations to monitor it (waste) from the cradle to the grave,” Glatt said.
Filter socks are used to filter toxic saltwater and water used for hydraulic fracturing at well sites. Over time, they can accumulate radioactive particles.
Under North Dakota law, material and equipment containing less than 5 picocuries of total radium per gram of material can be released or used without restriction. If it has more than 5 picocuries, they must be disposed of as naturally occurring radioactive material.
Currently, anything over 5 picocuries must be disposed of at sites out of state. This number is expected to be increased, something Dorgan questioned.
“If it can’t be demonstrated they can or will track low-level radioactive and toxic waste, why allow them to raise the limits? Their job is to protect the health and welfare of people who live in North Dakota, not increase oil industry profits. Unfortunately, they’ve decided their job is the latter not the former,” said Dorgan, adding that bringing light to the issue will hopefully spur lawmakers to get on board with improving regulations and beef up enforcement.
Glatt said measuring the amount of fines an agency collects doesn’t provide a full picture of a regulatory agency’s effectiveness. He said enacting new rule changes following the study’s release will largely address the problem.
“I think it’s all going to be taken care of,” said Glatt, pointing out that 10 to 15 new staff positions in the Environmental Health Section are being requested in the agency’s 2015-17 budget.
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