No Time to Waste: Effective Management of Oil and Gas Field Radioactive Waste

Western Organization of Resource Councils

[DeSmog Blog] The question of how to handle the toxic waste from fracking and other oil and gas activities is one of the most intractable issues confronting environmental regulators. Not only because of the sheer volume of waste generated nationwide, but also because some of the radioactive materials involved have a half-life of over 1,500 years, making the consequences of decision-making today especially long-lasting.

Every year, the oil and gas industry generates roughly 21 billion barrels of wastewater and millions of tons of solid waste, much of it carrying a mix of naturally occurring radioactive materials, and some of it bearing so much radioactive material that it is not safe to drink or even, on far more rare occasions, to simply have it near you…

Over the past decade, states have often proved ill-prepared to handle the flood of waste from the shale drilling rush, sometimes because drillers struck oil or gas in a region with little prior experience with drilling’s unique hazards, and other times because the political sway of a wealthy and well-connected industry or a lack of resources for environmental regulation left state rules vague or poorly enforced, environmentalists say.

Both types of problems are highlighted in a new report, published Nov. 19 by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), that examines how radioactive wastes are handled under various state laws.

“[S]tate regulatory frameworks remain sparse, where they exist at all,” the report, titled No Time To Waste, concluded, after a review of rules governing radioactive waste from oil and gas operations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Some of those states, like Wyoming and North Dakota, have long-established histories of intensive oil exploration, while others, like Montana and Idaho have far less drilling activity but nonetheless have found themselves grappling in recent years with radioactive waste from neighboring states and as far away as Pennsylvania.

The report details a string of illegal dumping incidents, including the dumping of thousands of pounds of filter socks, used to filter wastewater, on a truck bed in Watford City in Feb. 2014; a 2013 incident where roughly 1,000 filter socks were illegally snuck into a municipal landfill; and the discovery in March, 2014 of over 200 trash bags stuffed with radioactive waste at an abandoned gas station in Noonan, ND, which made national headlines.

That year, an Associated Press investigation uncovered over 150 attempts to dump radioactive waste at landfills not qualified to accept it — and that state regulators failed to fine or sanction anyone over the attempted illicit dumping.

And that’s in North Dakota, which is the only state with a “relatively comprehensive” approach to regulating the drilling rush’s radioactive materials, the WORC report concluded…



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