State officials address Oaks Disposal concerns (Part 2 of 2)
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Opponents of the site have consistently argued that it poses a danger to water sources due to its situation over an aquifer and its proximity to Deer Creek.
But according to Rick Thompson, supervisor of DEQ’s Waste Management Section, even if the double-lined leachate system installed at Oaks Disposal failed, contamination of groundwater is unlikely.
He said due to the soil composition at the site, DEQ’s calculations show that it would take over 1,000 years “for an inch of liquid to move to the top level of the aquifer.”
Thamke also maintained that the facility’s design was well suited to prevent runoff from stormwater over assertions by opponents that it wasn’t. He added that during their visit to the site on Tuesday, a heavy thunderstorm pounded the area and DEQ “saw stormwater addressed very nicely.”
Tara Oakland, facility manager Ross Oakland’s wife, told the audience that they were as concerned about the runoff issue as anyone, and would not have allowed the facility to be built or operated in a way that would pose a contamination threat to Deer Creek.
“All the (Oaks Disposal) employees are local, and they live at the end of Deer Creek too,” she said.
Loads of debris brought to the site are also sampled and sent off for laboratory testing before burial in the landfill, according to DEQ and Ross Oakland.
Audience member Maggie Copeland asked why all the testing procedures were necessary for the facility.
“What’s really not making sense to me is if it’s not hazardous, then why is all of this required,” Copeland asked.
Thamke responded that it was simply because it was solid waste. He added that the City of Glendive landfill was built to the same standards as Oaks Disposal and was subject to similar testing requirements.
Asked if that meant the Glendive landfill was capable of accepting oilfield waste — including filter socks — Thamke said it was, and would be eligible to apply to DEQ to accept such waste if the city desired it.
Despite those considerations, Thamke said he understood why people living nearby would have trepidations about the site.
“I understand, I would feel the same way you do,” he said.
Grant Kubesh responded by shouting, “Close it down,” to which Thamke simply replied, “No.”
The Kubeshes, including their son Zack, continued to press Thamke on the issue of closing the site or reassessing its potential environmental impact.
But Thamke maintained the site had already passed muster during the permitting process and was operating within DEQ regulations.
“How would you like it if you had a government official going out and indiscriminately denying something you’re working on,” he responded to the Kubeshes admonishments that DEQ shut down or re-evaluate the facility. “There’d be hell to pay.”
Meeting attendees also questioned the permitting process itself, claiming that there had been insufficient public notice about the facility.
DEQ maintained they had run the one public notice in the Ranger-Review about the pending permit and the public comment period required of them by law.
The Ranger-Review also ran a front page story about the pending permit for the facility two weeks before the public comment period ended.
Claims were also made that DEQ had held a public meeting about the facility in Helena. DEQ adamantly denied those claims, saying there was no public meeting because nobody requested one during the comment period, and that if a public meeting had been scheduled, it would have been held in Glendive.
A couple of meeting attendees maintained they had written to DEQ during the comment period requesting a public meeting. DEQ officials promised to look back through their files and investigate.
The Kubeshes also brought up the issue of trucks heading to the disposal site not being tarped, which has been one of their most consistent complaints.
Thamke said whether or not trucks were tarped was not “under DEQ’s purview.” Ross Oakland said he was working with the trucking companies to try and get all of them to tarp their trucks.
Another attendee asked why DEQ didn’t go out and find a “perfect site” for an oilfield waste landfill that wasn’t situated anywhere near a creek or aquifer.
Thamke replied that DEQ wasn’t in the business of operating landfills, and that their job by law was to act as a regulator and enforcer.
“The legislature doesn’t want us in that business, they want us regulating those sites,” he said. “I wish we had everything high and dry and not in my backyard, but that’s not the reality.”
Given the furor that has arisen over Oaks Disposal, DEQ officials did note that the agency is in the process of drafting new rules for the depositing of oilfield waste. Those new rules would apply to Oaks Disposal as well as any new facility, Thamke said.
Oaks Disposal is currently the only landfill in Montana devoted exclusively to the handling of oilfield waste, but DEQ is currently reviewing license applications for two similar facilities in northeastern Montana.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.