Two special waste landfill companies have pending applications with Williams County for conditional use permits allowing them to accept TENORM wastes from the oil and gas industry.
They are Secure Energy and WISCO. Those applications are set for a hearing before the Williams County Planning and Zoning on June 17, but before that occurs, there will be an informal session from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Williston ARC for the public to ask questions about the project.
Secure Energy and WISCO will have representatives on hand to explain their operational plans, as well as the safety and environmental measures they will employ to protect the public. Department of Environmental Quality will also be present to answer questions about the solid waste permitting process, landfill construction and operations, and inspection and monitoring requirements, and representatives from the Department of Mineral Resources and the ND Petroleum Council will also attend to share information about future drilling and production expectations, as well as the likely volume of associated TENORM.
The informal session is hosted by Western Dakota Energy Association, which conducted a study to develop recommendations for disposal of TENORM wastes produced in northwestern North Dakota, at the urging of Williams County Commissioners.
Commissioners said at the time they wanted a regional look at the issue, one that would take into account how many such facilities are really needed. Commissioners were concerned that if too many of the facilities are permitted and one fails, the liability for an abandoned facility could fall onto the county.
Both of the landfills asking to accept TENORM are special waste landfills already in operation. They are asking to be allowed to accept up to 25,000 tons of TENORM annually, with up to 50 pico curies per gram of radioactive materials.
TENORM refers to technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material. It is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction process in North Dakota. Naturally occurring radioactive substances are routinely brought to the surface of the earth during oil and gas extraction, but over time they can eventually become further concentrated at various stages of the production process.
TENORM is commonly found in filter socks, tank bottom sludges, and scale that forms inside well pipes and equipment.
North Dakota generates 92,000 tons of TENORM annually, the equivalent of about 2,300 truckloads, and does not yet have a permitted landfill or disposal facility for it, despite changing its rules several years ago to make such a facility more feasible.
In changing its rules, North Dakota commissioned a study to identify a safe threshold for radiation with Argonne National Laboratories. That study concluded the state could safely raise the threshold to 50 pico curies per gram, given safety precautions such as erosion and runoff control for such wastes.
Right now, most of the 2,300 truckloads of TENORM produced in North Dakota is hauled across the border to a location in Montana.
Brent Bogar, senior consultant with AE2S Nexus, prepared the WDEA’s TENORM study, which includes a heat map that shows where TENORM is most likely to be produced in the region.
Bogar is recommending that states consider consolidating the permitting for TENORM facilities with DEQ, similar to the way it did for pipelines with the PSC in 2017. That process still allows counties to provide considerable input, while placing the ultimate authority for permitting the sites with the state.