AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
North Dakota’s Department of Minerals Resources recent announcement that it would implement new rules regarding the disposal of filter socks, as well as that agency’s decision to seek up to $1 million in damages against a trucking company for illegally dumping saltwater is very welcome news.
For apparently far too long, the disposal of radioactive filter socks, which are used as part of the fracking process in oil wells, has pretty much gone unregulated by the state of North Dakota. The lack of enforcement, of course, resulted in some individuals and companies in the oilfield to simply leave hundreds of those socks on flatbed trailers where they oozed radioactive liquids on the ground, as happened in McKenzie County. Or to conveniently dispose of thousands of the spent filter socks in an abandoned garage, as happened near Noonan.
The obvious outcry of the illegal disposal by local citizens made front page news across North Dakota and the nation. And in the case of the Noonan incident, left the state of North Dakota holding the bag to pay for the disposal cost.
With obvious “egg on their faces,” state officials wasted very little time in drafting a whole set of new rules and regulations that govern the future disposal of filter socks and set in place new permit requirements for oil, gas and saltwater disposal wells.
As part of those new rules, which will become effective on June 1, covered, leak-proof containers designated for filter sock disposal will be required to be on-site at saltwater disposal wells at all times and on-site during the drilling, completion and flow-back phases of all new spud (drilled) oil and gas wells. Disposal containers must then be collected by a licensed waste hauler and disposed of at an authorized facility.
Further, on March 13, the Department of Mineral Resources notified all North Dakota well operators that they must use waste haulers licensed by the North Dakota Department of Health to dispose of any oilfield waste produced at the well site.
In a completely separate, but equally disturbing, incident, an inspector with the Department of Mineral Resources witnessed a driver for Black Hills Trucking Inc. of Wyoming, driving a semi-truck along a stretch of road in southwest Williams County with valves on the underside of the truck open, allowing saltwater to flow directly onto the ground.
Black Hills Trucking may now face fines reaching $1 million due to the driver’s actions, and the driver could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, a fine of $10,000, or both.
As North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said, “Those who blatantly disregard rules designed to protect the environment and keep our citizens safe will be held accountable for their actions.”
While the benefits of the oil industry, both locally and to the state of North Dakota, are many, there are also some very serious downsides to all this oil development. To those of us living here, we may be able to deal with the congested and dangerous driving conditions on our highways, or living with all the dirt and litter that covers our countryside, or driving on pot-holed and washboard roads, or dealing with the thousands of new people who are now living here.
But the one thing that we, who call this area our home, will not tolerate is when people employed by an oilfield company or an oilfield company decides to turn our countryside into a giant garbage dump, simply because they don’t want to follow the state’s rules and regulations and dispose of oilfield waste properly.
Those people that decide that it is easier to dump filter socks, saltwater or other oilfield waste, not only should face the maximum penalty that the state can dish out, they should also be banned from North Dakota.