How are TENORM facilities monitored? (copy)

Dale Patrick answers questions at a public hearing the state held recently for a landfill facility seeking TENORM permits in this 2019 file photo.

A hearing date has been set with Williams County’s Planning and Zoning Commission for an oilfield company seeking to become the state’s first licensed TENORM facility.

The state conducted a required hearing for the facility’s state permits in late August, but the business will also need an amended permit from Williams County to begin accepting wastes with low level radioactivity. These are routinely produced when oil and gas are extracted from the Bakken’s shale layers.

The planning and zoning hearing date is 6 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Williams County Commission Room, located at 206 Broadway. The meeting is open to the public, and public comments on the facility’s application will be accepted during the meeting.

Those unable to attend the meeting may also provide comments in writing to: Williams County Planning and Zoning Division, PO Box 2047, Williston, ND 58802-2047 or via email at planning@co.williams.nnd.us. The phone number, if there are further questions about the process, is 701-577-4565.

The application is also available for public inspection during regular business hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Development Services Office, located at 206 E Broadway in Williston.

Low-level radioactive materials — called NORM, or naturally occurring radioactive materials — are routinely brought to the surface during crude oil extraction. The materials are commonly present in the state’s shale layers. They settle out in tank bottoms and collect on filter socks, and thus become a little more concentrated than they were below ground. At that point they are called TENORM, or technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material.

Until recently, North Dakota did not allow radioactive materials above 5 picocuries per gram in its landfills. That forced oilfield companies to send such wastes across state lines for disposal, most commonly to facilities just across the border in northeastern Montana.

In 2016, the state changed its threshold to 50 picocuries, based on a study it commissioned from Argonne National Labs that found 50 picocuries per gram would ensure disposal workers did not exceed exposurs of 100 millirems per day, which is the EPA’s threshold for safety.

Secure Energy is among the first companies to apply for permits to accept and dispose of TENORM wastes up to the new 50 picocurie limit. Two permits are actually required, one for radioactive materials handling and the other for solid waste.

State officials have told the Williston Herald there will be many restrictions on the facility.

Among them, Secure Energy will not be allowed to accept more than 25,000 tons of TENORM material in a given year. Any companies sending them wastes must test their loads first, to verify that it is below the required 50 picocuries per gram threshold.

Pits for the TENORM waste must include appropriate liners to prevent runoff. The company will be required to regularly monitor the air upwind and downwind of its facility, as well as ground water around the facility and leachate from its pits. These tests will be required on an at least quarterly basis, though the state can require them more often if necessary.

The facility must also have a dust control plan. That will include a requirement to cover the TENORM pits at least once in each 24-hour period with at least 1 foot of non-TENORM waste. This temporary covering is intended to help prevent erosion, particularly at times when the pits might not be in direct use.

Once the pit is full, its permanent cover must measure at least 10 feet from the surface of the topsoil.

The top three feet of this required cover includes an 18-inch clay liner at least 3 feet below the surface that has been compacted appropriately to prevent penetration by water. If the slope is greater than 15 percent, that liner must be 5 foot down instead of 3.

Above the liner, a clay-rich layer is required for the root zone, and above that, there must be at least 6 inches of topsoil, to ensure proper establishment of native grasses.

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