AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
As the state’s leading producer of oil and natural gas, McKenzie County officials and residents clearly understand the need for having adequate infrastructure to handle this growing industry. As a county, we know that having facilities that can handle many of the oilfield waste that are part of the drilling and fracing operations is critical to the success of the industry.
But that said, it is imperative that any landfills or other special handling facilities that are being used to dispose of these materials, which are often radioactive or otherwise harmful to humans and the environment, need to be vetted with extreme caution.
Such is the case with a radioactive materials license that has been submitted to the North Dakota Dept. of Health’s Air Quality Division by Waste Management of North Dakota, as well as an application to construct this facility that is before the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
Last Tuesday evening, McKenzie County officials and county residents made it clear to Dept. of Health officials that they had very serious reservations about the public’s health and safety concerns if this plant is permitted to be constructed where it is being proposed by Waste Management.
Chief among the county’s concerns were that this plant is being proposed to be built and operated in very close proximity to residents, there is a possibility of radioactive contamination to area aquifers and Lake Sakakawea, and that the existing county road that would serve this facility does not have adequate acceleration, deceleration or turning lanes.
The environmental and safety concerns raised by county officials and residents are legitimate and should be immediately addressed by both the state industrial commission and the health department before this project moves any farther forward.
Never once in last Tuesday’s public hearing, did county officials or residents say that Waste Management of North Dakota could not build a radioactive waste handling facility in McKenzie County. They just wanted the facility to build in an area that poses no health or safety threats to humans or the environment.
McKenzie County wants to be a good partner when it comes to working with the oil industry and to those companies that serve it. And at the same time, the state and the industry need to be respectful of the issues and concerns that county officials and its residents raise regarding proposed facilities. After all, it is the people of McKenzie County, not state officials in Bismarck or company officials who live out of state, that are going to be living and dealing with all of the ramifications of this project.
In the case of Waste Management of North Dakota’s Tobacco Garden Processing Facility, which would be the first such plant to be built and operated in North Dakota, it would behoove the state to be extra cautious to ensure that the health and safety concerns being raised by McKenzie County are fully addressed.
And if Waste Management wants to be a long-term player in North Dakota’s oil patch, they need to do whatever it takes for them to be viewed as being a responsible neighbor.
Perhaps the best solution is for Waste Management to work with McKenzie County officials to find a different site for their proposed waste handling facility. While such an action would result in a delay for the company, it would be a win-win for all the parties involved and allow Waste Management to emerge as a company that is willing to be a good corporate neighbor.