The North Dakota Petroleum Council may propose new state rules for burying radioactive waste generated in the oil patch.

The council will meet Thursday with the state Health Department to evaluate a change in rules so radioactive waste that builds up on disposal well filters and other oil field equipment can be buried in specially-permitted landfills instead hauled of out of state.

Kari Cutting, vice president of the council, said she expects significant inroads to be made at the meeting, which is one in an ongoing series.

Select Petroleum Council members, the state Health Department and state Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms have been looking at how other states manage the waste and evaluating the science, Cutting said.

North Dakota doesn’t allow disposal of any materials in excess of 5 picocuries per gram in any type of approved landfill in the state. A picocurie is a unit of radioactivity.

The situation has caused solid waste landfill operators to turn away dozens of loads that set off Geiger-type meters and report those loads to the state Health Department.

The waste is generated in the oil patch, primarily on the filters at disposal wells for produced saltwater or hydraulic fracture treatment water. The radioactive waste, which occurs naturally in soil layers, concentrates on the filter socks after time.

Cutting said there’s no push to change the regulated number of 5 pCi, unless the change makes sense.

“We’re more focused on disposing the waste here that’s generated here… (and) licensing for special waste disposal in North Dakota,” she said.

Scott Radig, who directs the Health Department’s waste management program, said if any changes are proposed, they will be proposed by the North Dakota Petroleum Council, not the department.

He said he and two others from the department have been providing comments based on how other states manage such waste.

Colorado, for example, where radioactive North Dakota oil field waste is frequently hauled, has a lower regulated rate of 3 pCi per gram, but allows disposal of concentrations up to 400 pCi, he said.

Radig said if similar facilities were permitted in North Dakota, they would resemble the large-volume industrial waste disposal site at Clean Harbors near Sawyer, which has a higher standard than special waste disposal sites in the oil field.

The process of changing rules for radioactive waste is fairly lengthy, Radig said.

The Petroleum Council would have to petition for the changes and the department would put them out for public comment. Once in final form, they would go to the 11-member state Health Council for approval, and then to the Legislative Administrative Rules committee before taking effect.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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