Williams County rejects landfill's radioactive waste request

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — The Williams County Commission has rejected a revised permit for a landfill that wants to become the first in North Dakota to dispose of radioactive oilfield waste after a state rule change.

The commissioners made the decision at a meeting Tuesday, the Bismarck Tribune reported. They also imposed a one-year moratorium on any pending or future applications for facilities that want to accept radioactive waste, which is known as technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material or TENORM.

The motion specified that Secure Energy Services, which operates a landfill north of Williston, can reapply after the county has had time to seek more information on additional restrictions and regulations it may want for such facilities.

Low levels of radiation that naturally occur in soil, water and rocks can become concentrated during oil and gas production, creating a category of waste that no state landfills have been allowed to accept despite a rule modification in 2016 that permits its disposal in-state. As a result, the waste gets hauled off to landfills in other states.

The embargo gives commissioners time to discuss the situation with other county, state and industry officials.

Commissioner David Montgomery said he is primarily concerned with ensuring the number of radioactive waste facilities does not surpass its demand.

“We have a bunch of abandoned wells that the state has already neglected,” Montgomery said. “If all of these facilities are fighting for that same piece of pie, what happens with a bankruptcy? If one of these is abandoned, how long will it take the state to step in and reclaim them?”

After speaking with commissioners in several other oil- and gas-producing counties, Montgomery said they share many of the same concerns.

“I’m not one for kicking the can down the road,” he said. “But this is too important a decision to make.”

For safety reasons, Commissioner Corey Hanson said radioactive waste should not be trucked long distances. It would be ideal if each county had a facility so that one county does not end up being the dumping ground for the rest, he added.

Commissioner Barry Ramberg said he still feels strongly that North Dakota should figure out its own solution for handling such waste.

“We are all benefiting from the oil,” Ramberg said. “We need to figure out how to take care of this ourselves.”