An alternative means for disposing of TENORM has a second company interested in constructing a slurry well in North Dakota, according to reports heard during a recent NDIC Commission meeting.
A “slurry well” works by grinding up oilfield wastes such as drill cuttings or oil-contaminated soil, and then making it into a slurry that can be injected into a disposal well deep below ground water level. It is similar to how saltwater disposal is handled, but with fine particulates.
KT Enterprises wants to build its proposed injection well and treating plant on a 40-acre site one-half mile south of what’s known as Johnson’s Corner in McKenzie County, between Watford City and New Town. Johnson’s Corner is at the intersection of Highway 73 and 23.
According to the NDIC order, which was approved last week, the treating plant would take in oilfield wastes, including drill cuttings and soil contaminated by spills, and process them for injection down the saltwater disposal well, which would be drilled down to the Broom Creek formation.
Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said the process is new to North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, but has been used successfully in Texas, Alaska, and other countries.
“(KT Enterprises) has hired industry experts not just to design the well and process, but also to manage it at least in the initial two to three years,” Helms told NDIC Commissioners during a hearing to consider the project. “The individual comes from Russia, but has years and years of experience in this area of operations.”
Helms added that the selected area has good geology for the project, with both good containment and confining zones. It is at least a half mile away from any producing wells, and more than a mile from EERC test wells in the area.
This is the second slurry well NDIC Commissioners have approved for North Dakota. The first was to Hydroil, which had proposed building one in northern McKenzie County. That project has been put on hold for the time being amid market uncertainty due to coronavirus, according to the company’s founder, Terry Walker.
Helms has told the Williston Herald it would be a much safer approach to disposal of TENORM wastes.
“As (these wastes) decompose, they produce radon gas,” he 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.”
Naturally occurring radioactive materials are routinely brought to the surface during oil and gas extraction. While these are generally at very low levels when they come to the surface, the material can accumulate on the bottoms of tanks and in filter socks, gradually rising in concentration. When that happens, the materials are referred to as Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials, or TENORM.
North Dakota eased its radiation limits a few years ago, going from 5 picocuries to 50, to allow properly permitted landfills to accept such wastes, but so far no permits have been issued.
Secure Energy Services attempted to obtain licenses and permits for a TENORM landfill last year, but Williams County denied the company a conditional use permit until further study could be done. The Western Dakota Energy Association, meanwhile, approved studying the matter to help inform policies for Williams and other counties facing the issue.