By Stephanie Norman
The North Dakota State Health Department is not tracking how companies are disposing of contaminated, radioactive oil filter socks.
After hundreds of oil-dripping, radioactive filter socks were discovered last week south of Arnegard, two more black trash bags full of oil filter socks were discovered just one mile up the road, less than 24 hours later on Saturday, Feb. 22.
“It had appeared that maybe the two incidents were linked,” McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said. “But we don’t believe they were, considering RP Services had not moved any of their filter socks yet.”
Where the two bags came from is still under investigation. In the mean-time, Statoil, an energy company in Williston, volunteered to remove the two sacks of filter socks found on the bridge and contain them properly.
The State Health Department gave RP Services, the company responsible for the waste found on the two flatbed trailers last week, an undetermined amount of time to contain the filter socks properly and submit a formal clean-up plan to the state, according to Scott Radiq, director of the North Dakota Division of Waste Management.
“All of the waste matter has been properly contained,” Radiq said. “Some work has been done to clean up the soil where oil had dripped, but they are still working on it. We have not received a full clean-up plan yet. There was not a specific date set to submit the plan, but we hope to have it soon.”
Samuelson said that McKenzie County does not have jurisdiction to file charges and they are waiting on the State Health Department to decide what they’re going to do.
It is the State Health Department’s duty to protect the health and welfare of the state’s people. According to members of the Dakota Resource Council (DRC) and the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition (NDEIWC), the Health Department is failing to do so.
“We met with Health Department officials over seven months ago, and at that time, despite state rules regarding disposal, Health Department officials could not tell us what was being done with the dangerous radioactive waste,” DRC Executive Director Don Morrison said. “The concern now seems to be protecting and/or increasing the profits of the state’s oil industry.”
The state does not have a system to track if, and how, companies using oil filter socks are storing or disposing of them properly, according to Radiq.
If an oil company uses 100 filter socks, they could potentially stuff them into trash bags, allow them to seep crude oil into the soil – which then gets into drinking water. And if they don’t want to pay the fees to have them hauled out of state for proper disposal, then they could toss the radioactive material off the side of a bridge, down a quiet road in McKenzie County, and unless someone sees and reports the incident to officials, the company would be getting away with exposing the community to harmful, hazardous material at its greatest.
“Recently, it was reported that more than 1,100 radioactive filter bags were discovered in 2013 when trucking companies tried to illegally dump them at the municipal landfill in Watford City,” NDEIWC spokesman Darrell Dorgan said. “What happened after the trucks were turned away from Watford City? I think we just found out. The rest was likely handled by the ‘midnight express’ and dumped in ditches, creeks and dumpsters around the region. Hello cancer.”
Nearly 75 tons of radioactive waste are being produced on a daily basis in the Bakken, which equals 30 million pounds of cancer-causing radioactive garbage, possibly being illegally dumped in McKenzie County and the surrounding areas, according to DRC studies.
“We rely on the companies to track and dispose of the waste properly,” Radiq said.
Radiq stated that the state is seeking options to track this hazardous material.
According to Morrison and Dorgan, the DRC and NDEIWC have been reporting illegally dumped radioactive waste to the State Health Department for over a year and have had little or no reaction.
“The State Health Department is not enforcing the regulations and seems to have no idea what’s happening to the 75 tons of waste generated daily in the state’s oilfields,” Morrison said. “Last year, state officials told us they would consider more aggressive enforcement. That has not happened. Will they actually do it this time?”
Because the Federal Environmental Protection Agency had to give the State Health Department notification of the recent incidents, it seems that the county and federal levels of officials are right on target with what they should be doing. However, it is the state’s responsibility to handle such cases.
“The state needs to monitor and track these filter socks,” Samuelson said. “At the next go-around with the Legislature, tracking and disposal procedures need to be discussed.”
“While local and federal officials appear to be doing their jobs, state officials continue to minimize the problems and make excuses,” Morrison said. “We have to ask once again, when is North Dakota state government going to step up and enforce the law on hazardous oil waste?”