Leaders with the Dakota Resource Council said Monday they believe more study is needed before implementing recommendations from the radioactive oilfield waste study released last week by the North Dakota Department of Health.

The study, conducted by the Argonne National Laboratory, outlined how the state should improve its handling and tracking of radioactive material, or TENORM.

North Dakota Department of Health officials said the study provided them with the science needed to move forward on beefing up regulations.

DRC member Larry Heilmann, a retired biochemist from Fargo, expressed concern over the proposed changes.

“I fail to see how this will enhance the health and safety of the people of North Dakota,” Heilmann said.

The issue of tracking and ensuring proper disposal of the material rose to prominence over the past year, following multiple reports of the illegal disposal of filter socks, which are used to filter toxic saltwater and water used for hydraulic fracturing at well sites. Over time, they can accumulate radioactive particles.

North Dakota law states that material and equipment containing less than 5 picocuries of total radium per gram of material can be released or used without restriction. If material or equipment has more than 5 picocuries of total radium per gram they have to be disposed of as naturally occurring radioactive material.

Currently, anything over 5 picocuries must be disposed of at sites out of state. The Argonne study recommends an increase to 50 picocuries.

David Glatt, head of the environmental health section of the North Dakota Department of Health, said the state works to address regulatory issues as they arise.

“North Dakota’s been in the oil business for 60-plus years, and it really hasn’t been an issue prior to this,” Glatt said.

The study also suggests developing a tracking system covering the time any radioactive waste is produced to its disposal.

Don Morrison, executive director of DRC, said state regulators should’ve been more proactive about the issue and that the oil and gas industry should be held to account as well.

“This is a business cost. They could’ve thought of this years ago,” Morrison said.

The study recommends allowing operators of industrial waste landfills and special oilfield waste landfills the ability to apply for permits to take on the waste if they’re willing to comply with new regulations.

Landfill operators wouldn’t be required to apply for taking on oilfield waste.

Glatt said the process for approving a landfill is an extensive one, requiring county zoning approval and review by the state.

A public comment period runs through Jan. 31. Three public hearing dates have been set: Jan. 13 in Williston, Jan. 14 in Bismarck and Jan. 15 in Fargo. Locations and times will be released by the department when confirmed.

The Argonne study can be found by visiting ndhealth.gov/EHS/TENORM.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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