North Dakota has permitted a second slurry injection well for disposal of TENORM wastes in McKenzie County, according to reports from the North Dakota Industrial Commission. The injection well will be sited on a location that is halfway between Williston and Alexander along U.S. Highway 85.
TENORM slurry wells are a relatively new approach in North Dakota for disposal of the low-level radioactive waste that is a routine byproduct of oil and gas extraction. Drill cuttings or drilling mud is ground up and mixed with water to produce a slurry that can then be injected deep below ground water level. They function similar to a saltwater disposal well, but the slurry includes fine particulates.
There was some opposition to the the permit for GMJS, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told the NDIC, mainly over road access issues. The access point is shared by school busses, Helms said, and there are two nearby housing developments with just one access point.
GMJS has since met with stakeholders and promised to stage all their trucks on site, and to prohibit trucks from coming and going during school bus hours, Helms said. They’ve also agreed to pay for some road improvements in the area.
“So we’re satisfied that they’re taking care of the concern,” he said, adding that the firm has all the right expertise for the project it is proposing and has done its due diligence on everything, including a couple of nearby plugged and abandoned wells.
Helms recommended a $200,000 bond for the disposal well, because this type of well can cost more to plug and reclaim. The bond was about $100,000 more than the company had requested.
NDIC unanimously approved the permit and the bonding amount of $200,000.
The GMJS Services facility will actually be the second TENORM slurry well drilled in McKenzie County and in North Dakota. KT Enterprises drilled the first, which began operating in April and has already injected more than 7,000 barrels of radioactive slurry thousands of feet underground.
Keith Norbeck, Vice President of the company, has told the Williston Herald that so far the process is behaving just as modeling predicted it would, and that things are going well for the project.
While the TENORM slurry well is a relatively new approach to disposal of low-level radioactive drilling wastes in North Dakota, it has been used since the 80s in places like Alaska. North Dakota has excellent geology for underground storage of TENORM wastes, thanks to various impermeable layers that can hold and contain the wastes deep below ground.
North Dakota has struggled with disposal of its TENORM waste stream since the boom began. When the boom began, the state had in place a 5 pico curie per gram limit on the disposal of radioactive wastes. That meant none of the state’s solid waste management facilities could accept the waste. All of it had to be trucked out of state, mainly to a facility in eastern Montana.
Incidents of illegal dumping have prompted the state to take a second look at TENORM disposal. They commissioned a study by the Argonne National Laboratories, which determined that a 50 pico curies per gram limit would be a safe threshold for TENORM disposal. North Dakota adopted regulations in 2016 making that the new limit for permitted facilities.
Several companies, including two in Williams County, applied for conditional use permits to dispose of TENORM wastes not long after that, but the facilities have faced many questions along the way.
After a moratorium so it could study the matter more closely, Williams County officials did approve two TENORM amendments for for WISCO and Secure Energy Services. They could ultimately become the state’s first solid-waste facilities to accept TENORM up to 25,000 tons per year of TENORM at their existing landfill facilities. The have to complete the state’s permitting process first.
North Dakota generates around 92,000 tons of TENORM annually, according to state statistics, which is about 2,300 truckloads.