A steady stream of naturally occurring but technologically enhanced radioactive waste still heads across the Montana border for disposal at the Oaks Disposal Facility near Glendive.
That could change, however, if a pair of new slurry wells demonstrates a better, safer way to dispose of TENORM.
Lynn Helms is the Director of the Department of Mineral Resources, which oversees the Division of Oil and Gas. He has been working with two companies to develop a new approach to these low-level radioactive wastes in North Dakota.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission has recently approved the development of two slurry wells in northern McKenzie County, the first of their kind in the state. They will dispose of TENORM wastes by grinding them up into fine particulates and re-injecting them deep below the surface of the earth, back into the ground from which they came.
Naturally occurring radioactive materials are part of North Dakota’s shale layers, which also includes layers like the Bakken that house oil and gas. NORM comes up as solid wastes in varying amounts whenever crude oil and natural gas are extracted. It settles out into tank bottoms as a kind of sludge that must be removed before Bakken light sweet crude can be marketed.
Processing these wastes causes them to become “technologically enhanced.” Hence, the waste is referred to as TENORM.
“(Slurry wells) are not a brand new process or technology,” Helms said. “It is just new to the Bakken. Alaska has been doing this on the north slope with all of their solid waste for decades. You cannot have landfills in permafrost.”
The radioactivity of TENORM in general is very low, Helms said.
Despite that, however, disposal of the wastes has been controversial.
A few years ago, North Dakota eased its radiation limits to 50 pico-curies, to allow properly permitted landfills to accept the wastes. Permitting, however, appears to have stalled.
Helms said the slurry disposal well process has become more technical in how it’s managed.
“With the modern measurement and computer systems, they are able to manage the process much better, so we wrote this order to take advantage of that,” Helms said.
If the approach proves successful, it would be a safer way to dispose of the wastes than in landfills anyway, Helms said, and would reduce pressure on landfills.
“As (these wastes) decompose, they produce radon gas,” Helms said. “A lot of care has to be taken with the handling, processing and disposal of that. If this becomes commercial and widespread, it would be a much safer and more permanent way of disposing of that waste stream.”
The wells will be owned by Hydroil and operated by Terralog Technologies, which has done this kind of work in Alberta, Saskatchewan; California; Louisiana; Alaska; Indonesia; Saudi Arabia and Norway. Helms estimated the facility would be able to process 10 to 20 percent of the total volume of this kind of waste stream in North Dakota.
“That was one reason that the commission felt comfortable approving this is that these people have the experience all over the world and the know-how and qualifications to do it right,” Helms said.
The wells are not yet operating. The North Dakota Industrial Commission will be reviewing elevated bonding requirements for the two wells this month.
The usual bonding requirement for a disposal well is $50,000, but for these it will be $100,000. There will also be a third bond, yet to be determined, for the facility that will process the waste and prepare it for injection.
Helms said the state is being as cautious as possible about this new approach.
“We are starting with a much higher level of surveillance than what Terralog is used to,” Helms said. “Typically in states where they have been doing this a long time, they are doing monthly and annual reports. we are starting with weekly.”
The company will be required to collect the data it is providing on an hourly basis, too.
“We are starting out with everything we could learn from the Alaska and Louisiana rules and experience, with a very high level of surveillance, and go from there,” Helms said.
If everything goes well, then there could be more of the wells permitted in the state, perhaps six to 10 of the facilities, Helms estimated.
“This is definitely going to be a learning process for both of us,” he added. “Our intent is, if it moves beyond this application, that we will actually write a statewide rule based on what we learn here.”
It’s going to be a week of firsts for Haley Wolfe — likely more than just a week, really.
For example, Monday, June 17, was the first time Wolfe put the Miss North Dakota crown on her own head. She has to get used to doing that, because on Saturday, Wolfe, 21, was named Miss North Dakota 2019 during the annual competition. She beat out a field of 19 other young women to take the crown.
Saturday was a particularly special night for Wolfe, because not only did she win the crown, she also got to share the stage with her sister, Sabrina. Both of them made it to the top 11 and so were featured on stage Saturday.
“My mom was freaking out,” Wolfe said.
This was only the second time Wolfe, a Carrington native who lives in Fargo and attends Minnesota State University Moorhead, competed for the title of Miss North Dakota. She went through the Miss North Dakota’s Outstanding Teen competitions, but surgery on her feet kept her sidelined from the main competition for several years.
After she healed, though, she decided to compete for Miss North Dakota, but she never thought she would win.
“The main reason I do it is for the scholarship money,” she said.
Her time competing has earned her enough in scholarships that she’ll have essentially no debt when she graduates with an accounting degree. She has one semester to go at MSUM, but for now, that’s on hold.
Now that Wolfe is Miss North Dakota 2019, she has a busy year ahead of her. She wants to support Kaylee Moss, who was named Miss North Dakota’s Outstanding Teen 2019 on Friday, as Moss prepares for the national competition, which starts in late July.
Then she needs to get ready for the Miss America competition. Usually that’s set for September in Atlantic City, but right now there is no date for the event, and the location hasn’t been announced.
“We’re still working on making sure we prepare as best we can,” Wolfe said.
In the meantime, she’ll start visiting schools around the state. Wolfe’s platform is #BeThe1To, which is designed to raise awareness about teen suicide and how it can be stopped.
That’s a cause that hits close to home for her, because a cousin took his own life when he was 18.
“I’d like to share his story and raise awareness in our state, because it’s kind of a big issue,” she said.
As Miss West Fargo, she took part in the Fargo Walk Out of Darkness, which raises money for suicide prevention. She hopes to use her platform to raise even more money and more awareness for the cause, as well as for the Children’s Miracle Network.
“I just love giving back, especially when you have something like a crown to use as a megaphone to raise awareness,” she said.
With a generous donation to Williston State College, Williston Basin chapter of API has reached an important milestone: more than $1 million dollars given in donations.
On Monday, June 17, API board members joined representatives from Williston State College outside The Well on the school’s campus, where API President Ken Callahan presented the college with a check for $10,000 for an endowment at the school.
API has been donating to various organizations and causes in the area for over 30 years, and Callahan said the group realized in 2017 that they had given over $750,000 to various groups and scholarships, and began tracking the organization’s progress in terms of giving.
With Monday’s donation, API finally crested the $1 million dollar mark, something Callahan said made him “ecstatic.”
“It’s absolutely incredible,” he told the Williston Herald. “It’s remarkable the pace (API) has been able to keep, and the overall support from the energy industry has been amazing.”
Callahan said there are hundreds of organizations that API has been able to give to over the last eight years, with about $500,000 going to those organizations, and about $500,000 going to Williston State College, the University of North Dakota and Montana Tech. When it was apparent that the organization was reaching its millionth dollar in donations, Callahan said he knew he wanted WSC’s donation to be what crested that mark.
“We have three core values (at API),” he explained. “Participate, engage and educate. You can’t ask for a better entity that follows those values than Williston State College. They participate in everything in the community. They engage everything-whether it’s the oil and gas industry, the ag, they city or the citizens of Williston. And they educate our public. So it made sense.”
To mark the momentous occasion, Callahan said Williston Basin API will be holding an event on Saturday, Sept. 7, at Black Magic Harley Davidson in Williston. The celebration will feature a free meal, games and activities for children and live musical entertainment from the band Slamabama. Callahan said that he believes by the time API celebrates in September, they will have given away around $100,020,000 in donations.
While Callahan said he is grateful to be a part of what API does, he said the real credit belongs to board of directors members Cliff Binks, Larry Dokken, Brent Eslinger, Kathy Neset, Wayne Biberdorf and Monte Bessler. Without their guidance, he said, Williston API would not be where it is today and in a position to help so many organizations.
“Those are the ones that really laid the path,” he explained. “If it wasn’t for them, laying down the groundwork to put us through the thick and thin, the boom and the bust, we wouldn’t have kept our association together. So the thanks goes out to all of them for carrying the water for us. It’s the dedication that these people put in that made us so successful today.”
Two pipelines laid side by side became a corridor of trouble for a Ray farmer, but now they are the center of attention for a pipeline reclamation field day set for Thursday, June 20.
Shane Hodenfield, Ray, worked with the Williston Research Extension Center’s cropping specialist Dr. Clair Keene to select alfalfa and grass combinations in the section where the pipelines were installed. The forages were planted in June of last year, and they are already in good shape for a little tour.
The reclamation field day will be 10 a.m. to noon Thursday. This is a free event, and no registration is required. Just show up at the field site, which is on the south side of the 117th Avenue Northwest and 70th Street Northwest intersection. From the Cenex gas station in Ray, go north on Williams County Road 17/115th Avenue Northwest for 7 miles, then west on 70th Street Northwest.
The field location has no facilities, so attendees need to be prepared to spend a few hours outside, and should also wear proper attire, including closed-toe shoes.
At the field walk, Hodenfield will talk about the issues he was having with the pipeline corridor, as well as how things are going now. Participants will also hear from Keene about the selections she recommended to reclaim the trouble spot.
Soil health/cropping system specialist Keith Brown will also talk about infiltration of soil and Meridith Miller will discuss a pipeline study being conducted at Williston Research Extension Center as well.
Keene said Hodenfield had already tried several crops in the pipeline corridor prior to contacting her.
“He had tried growing barley and soybeans and a full season cover crop there, but they just never did well,” Keene said. “They came up, but had a very, very low yield. When it became obvious to him that he wouldn’t be able to cover costs of production on that land, he started looking for other options.”
Keene has already been involved in some reclamation work with saline seeps at Williston Research Extension Center, so Hodenfield decided to see if she could help him with reclaiming the pipeline corridor.
Keene leaned toward perennial power for the first stab at reclamation, in combination with some forage grasses.
“Perennial roots, and alfalfa especially, get really deep in the soil,” she said. “It adds carbon in the soil and it’s holding that soil in place year round. It’s there fall and winter protecting the soil against erosion. And because it starts growing as soon as the snow melts and is warm enough, it can compete with the weeds.”
Annuals, meanwhile, even if planted early, will take two to four weeks to have a good root system that feeds soil biology, as well as a crop canopy that can suppress weeds.
“Perennials do a good job of protecting against weeds and erosion, because they are there all year,” she said.
A second feature that makes perennials a good choice for pipeline reclamation is the reduction in costs over the long-term, while the land is in a less productive state.
“You’re not paying for seed and fertilizer every year, which you do for wheat and things like that,” Keene said. “So over multiple years, you see a cost savings.”
Keene planted the corridor, which runs the whole length of a section and is 300 feet wide, in four different sections of roughly 8 to 9 acres each. Each section got a different combination of alfalfa and grass.
“What we ended up planting out there is a demonstration,” Keene said. “It’s not a replicated trial. But it is looking pretty good. I was there August of last year and the undisturbed areas did look better than the pipeline. But the good news is the pipeline was growing the alfalfa and grass, so we wanted to do a field day this spring to just talk about pipeline reclamation and some things to think about with perennials.”
Keene does not have funding for a study of the corridor, but does plan to keep sampling the biomass to see how the forages are doing.
“There would be a lot of room to learn about how the soil is changing over time, if we had funding,” Keene said. “I have not been doing any measurements on compaction or increases to soil organic matter or changes to pH. But there are a lot of things that we do need to know about how the soil changes under the perennials and how quickly it can happen in a pipeline situation.”
A question Keene would particularly like to be able to answer is how long before such corridors can be farmed productively again.
“We know it will take a while, but we don’t know how quickly it will change,” Keene said. “It definitely merits further investigation.”
14-year-old injured in ATV crash near County Road 6
A 14-year-old boy was injured Saturday, June 15, when the ATV he was riding flipped, the North Dakota Highway Patrol said.
The boy was riding a Polaris Sportsman 450 east alongside County Road 6 about 2 miles east of Williston, according to a news release from the Highway Patrol. The ATV went airborne off an approach and overturned. The boy was thrown from the ATV and was injured in the crash. He was taken to CHI St. Alexius in Williston. No word on his condition was available Monday afternoon, and the investigation into the crash was still ongoing.
Motorcyclist dies following western North Dakota crash
PARSHALL — A 69-year-old Parshall man died Sunday, June 16, following a motorcycle crash a day earlier on Highway 1804 about 22 miles south of this western North Dakota community.
Larry Snyder was riding a 1988 Harley Davidson about 11:30 a.m. Saturday when he lost control of the bike into a ditch, the North Dakota Highway Patrol said. Snyder was transported to Garrison Memorial Hospital and later died at Trinity Hospital in Minot.
Conditions were dry and windy at the time of the crash, the Highway Patrol said.
Parshall is about 60 miles west of Minot.