Despite accusations that the public had not been notified of its meeting, a State Health Council of health and consumer appointees on Tuesday approved new rules to allow radioactive waste in special North Dakota landfills.
The council noted the protests then moved quickly to set a level of 50 picocuries of radiation in landfills for oil and gas waste.
The idea is the state will take responsibility for some of its radioactive oil waste, rather than truck it out of state to Montana, Idaho and elsewhere.
There are 13 special waste operators in the oil patch and any or all of them could apply for an amended permit after the rules are in place early next year. The council vote was an important step along the way. The rules still need to be approved by the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee and vetted by the state attorney general.
The public will be able to comment, and State Health Department environmental chief David Glatt said he expects some reluctance over what he terms an “emotional issue.”
However, science will lead the way, not public opinion, he said.
“We have to deal with science and the law. We have a responsibility to handle the waste and, if it’s protective of public health, then it will happen,” Glatt said.
New applications for a special waste landfill can trigger a countywide vote; these amended ones for radioactive waste will not.
“The landfill’s already been approved,” Glatt said.
Scott Radig, who heads the department’s waste management division, said counties could create individualized radioactive waste zoning subcategories. His staff will meet with counties in the next few months to explain the new rules.
Darrell Dorgan, spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, protested the legitimacy of the health council’s meeting and accused it of failing to provide adequate public notice.
“I object to this meeting until that’s answered,” said Dorgan, adding that he learned of the meeting “by accident.”
The council’s recording secretary Londa Rodahl said, as customary, she posted public notice on the Secretary of State’s website and sent news releases to the media and individuals who’ve asked for notice.
The move toward radioactive waste disposal in North Dakota started three years ago and gained traction when Argonne National Laboratory completed its tests of North Dakota oil field materials last year. The institution recommended 50 pci as a safe level of waste for North Dakota. The result is several pages of rules that provide safety training for workers and require such landfills to cover the radioactive waste daily with one foot of compacted soil and build a final cover 10 feet thick.
The rules also create a “cradle-to-grave” record of where the waste was generated, by whom and where every load is buried. Operators will use approved radioactive testing protocol, and some specialized companies may set up at oil field locations or landfills to test and seal the waste.
Glatt said the records will help create an accurate tally of radioactive waste, estimated to be about 75 tons daily in filter socks, tank sludge, pipe scale and other oil industry materials.
Other oil producing states are closely watching how North Dakota proceeds, according to Glatt.