Montana considers changing oil field waste disposal rules

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana is considering setting statewide regulations covering the disposal of radioactive oilfield waste, the Department of Environmental Quality said.

Currently rules are addressed on a case-by-case basis when landfills are licensed.

The DEQ is taking public comment on a proposal to regulate the disposal of naturally occurring radioactive material that is released during fracking for oil and gas.

The radioactive material accumulates at higher levels in filters used to strain liquids during oil production or in sludge. The federal government does not regulate such waste.

Montana’s proposed rules would increase the amount of radiation allowed per load brought to a landfill from 50 picocuries to 200 picocuries per gram. To put that into perspective, coffee has naturally occurring radioactive material of 27 picocuries per gram.

Even with the increase in radioactive level per load, the facility must prove its annual concentration of waste doesn’t exceed 50 picocuries per gram, according to the proposal.

Facilities accepting waste disposal loads at the top level would be rare, said Ed Thamke, the DEQ’s waste and underground tank management bureau chief.

The new rules would include regulations for design and construction, operations and monitoring and spill reporting along with cleanup assurances.

A private waste facility near Glendive is the only one in the state that accepts radioactive oilfield waste, the DEQ said. Three other facilities are licensed, but two of them haven’t been built, Thamke said.

Increasing the radiation allowed per load is meant to discourage illegal dumping, which has happened in Montana and North Dakota.

The Northern Plains Resource Council questions why the state would increase the amount of radiation allowed when most of the waste is coming from the oil fields in North Dakota.

Maggie Copeland of Glendive said the NPRC has been working to get rules for years.

“Frankly, I’m outraged at DEQ’s move to quadruple the radioactivity limit,” she said in a statement released by the Northern Plains Resource Council. “It feels like an affront to all the time and effort landowners have put into this rulemaking.”

Public comment is being taken through Oct. 21 and public hearings are scheduled for Sept. 24 in Glendive and Oct. 10 in Helena.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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