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Who’s To Blame For North Dakota’s “Radioactive” Oil Waste?

North Dakota Radioactive Oil Waste

North Dakota landfill owners are dealing with increasing incidences of oil waste dumping in municipal dumps. There are regulations on how hazardous oil field waste should be disposed. Allowing it into a landfill can be very dangerous for the surrounding environment. North Dakota is expected to conduct risk assessments and create new rules and regulations regarding oil field waste and how it is to be disposed of, potentially increasing the amount of radioactivity allowed in waste to facilitate easier dumping.

Regulatory Standards May Already Be Too Strict

In North Dakota, there are extremely strict standards regarding low-level radioactive waste. In fact, North Dakota classifies “radioactive waste” as waste having 5 or more picocuries of radium per gram.

As High Country News points out, this is the same amount that ordinary soil can have. Thus, radioactively harmless materials are required to meet stringent standards of waste control. This can easily lead to illegal dumping. Increasing the rules and regulations would only worsen the problem, especially as the oil field industry in North Dakota continues to grow. Presently, radioactive waste has to be removed from the state.

It is also a matter of sheer volume; while there may be increases in illegal dumping in recent years, this is because of the drastic increase in oil field production. Given that no one could have anticipated the oil field boom in North Dakota, the infrastructure simply wasn’t there for large scale processing of the radioactive waste, leaving oil field operators with very few options. Moreover, there have not been any ill effects associated with the dumping of waste and there has been zero groundwater contamination.

Pointing Fingers

A Question of Culpability: Who Is To Blame?

It’s not always the company that dumps oil field waste illegally; many subcontractors may do so as well. When subcontractors take it upon themselves to dump illegally, the company may not even be aware. Subcontractors that do this may be trying to cut corners, but they may also simply not know about the regulations they are supposed to follow. With the oil industry growing as quickly as it is in North Dakota, there are still some contractors that may not be familiar with the rules and regulations.

Resolving the Issue

With no ill effects arising from the illegal dumping of oil field waste and the admission that the oil field waste is hardly more radioactive than surrounding soil, it becomes a question of whether this illegal dumping is actually harmful or whether North Dakota’s regulations simply need to be changed.

North Dakota is presently considering changing its oil field regulations to increase the amount of radioactivity that is considered to be hazardous. In addition to this, creating a better infrastructure through which large volumes of oil waste materials could be disposed of would likely improve the situation.

In many ways, these issues are simply the growing pains of a new industry that is still developing. While radioactivity and radioactive waste may seem frightening at first, there is low level radioactivity in virtually everything we touch, drink and consume. This background radiation is not harmful and does not need to be strictly regulated.