A proposal to create two “slurry wells” in McKenzie County for disposal of oilfield waste, including radioactive material, needs close examination by the state and feedback from the public.
This could be a good method for handling waste, but anything involving radioactive material raises some concerns. Slurry wells aren’t new, having been used in Alaska and Louisiana and other parts of the nation.
In a Sunday front-page story, reporter Amy R. Sisk looked at the pros and cons of the proposal.
Hydroil Solutions wants to construct two wells north of Alexander that would go deep underground. Solid waste would be combined with saltwater and than injected down the holes for permanent storage. The wells would be used on an alternating basis, each for up to 12 hours at a time. Switching between the wells allows the underground rock to relax.
The proposed wells would reach a depth of at least 7,000 feet.
While the science behind the slurry wells appears sound, there are specific geologic characteristics needed for the layers of rock where the slurry would be injected. Regulators have taken this into account in the Hydroil project.
A similar project was proposed several years ago and drew opposition from county residents. The company, Waste Management, later dropped its application.
The proposal by Hydroil remains in the permitting process. The company has gotten some initial approvals from the state but needs more permits from the Oil and Gas Division and a radioactive materials license from Environmental Quality.
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Down the road, if successful, slurry wells could eliminate the need for using landfills for handling oilfield waste. Rules established in 2016 allow landfills to take waste with a radiation level of up to 50 picocuries per gram. No facilities have obtained permits to handle waste at that level, but two landfills are in the application process. The slurry wells could handle higher levels of radioactive material.
The opposition to the Waste Management proposal reflects the public’s concerns about radioactive waste disposal. The fears about radioactive waste were further fueled a number of years ago when it was discovered radioactive filter socks were dumped in an old building.
Also, in 2016 the Department of Energy dropped a plan to drill 3-mile-deep holes near Rugby and Spink County, S.D., to study the feasibility of nuclear waste storage. The plan was dropped after public opposition.
That’s why it’s important that the public attend hearings that will be held as Hydroil seeks permits for the project. The public needs to hear how the slurry wells will operate and what safety precautions will be in place.
Residents in the area where the wells are proposed will want to know about truck traffic and possible noise issues.
Everyone in the state should be interested in any environmental issues of injecting waste at least 7,000 feet underground. What's the potential long-term impact of the products that are presently being disposed of underground?
There are a lot of questions that must be answered before everyone will be comfortable with the slurry wells.