State officials address Oaks Disposal conscerns (Part 1 of 2)
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
A Montana Department of Environmental Quality team paid a visit to Glendive Tuesday evening to present their perspective on the Oaks Disposal landfill in an effort to quell some of the fears and rumors surrounding the oil waste disposal site.
In a packed meeting in the courtroom of the Dawson County Courthouse, DEQ officials acknowledged from the outset that passions about the disposal site were running high and that not everyone would accept the information they provided.
“We’re not always going to agree on everything, I think we can all recognize that going in,” said Edward Thamke, bureau chief of DEQ’s Waste and Underground Tank Management Bureau.
Thamke began by addressing what goes into Oaks Disposal. He said the claims by Oaks Disposal opponents that the debris going to the site is hazardous had no basis in fact.
“We get a lot of comments about why is this hazardous and why is this toxic, and it’s not,” Thamke said.
One item Oaks Disposal accepts that has caused particular consternation is used oil filter socks.
The filter socks are used in the Bakken to filter particles out of the water used in the drilling process. The process stirs up elements from deep in the earth that are radioactive – namely radium – and the filter socks can become contaminated with radioactive particles.
The scientific appellation for this kind of radioactive material is Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material, or NORM.
Thamke told the crowd that NORM should not be confused with nuclear waste, but is a “different animal.”
“It’s like the name implies, it’s a natural part of the earth’s crust,” he said.
It also poses no risk to anyone living near the Oaks Disposal site, according to DEQ.
“Is the level of radioactivity (in filter socks) hazardous? The answer is no, it’s not,” Thamke said. “We know for a fact the NORM material isn’t hazardous and it’s not going to kill anyone.”
Mary Hendrickson, who is the technical lead for DEQ’s Solid Waste Licensing Program, pointed out that NORM is everywhere — in the soil, in the rocks, even in the water we drink — and that we are constantly exposed to it.
“The NORM, you encounter that everyday,” Hendrickson said. “It’s solid waste, it’s not hazardous waste.”
Mary Kubesh, who along with her husband, Grant, has been one of the most vocal critics of Oaks Disposal, countered that “North Dakota does not want this radioactive stuff in their state,” pointing to that state’s limit of 5 picocuries per gram for landfill acceptance.
Montana’s limit is 30 picocuries per gram. A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie, the standard measurement of radioactivity.
Thamke answered that what North Dakota does was “not our consideration,” but that Montana looked at other states to establish its guidelines for accepting such waste. Many other oil-producing states share Montana’s 30 picocurie limit, like Texas and Louisiana.
He added that North Dakota was in the process of reviewing their limits.
“And (North Dakota) has every intention of raising that level, so I wouldn’t hang my hat too hard on that 5 (picocurie limit),” Thamke said. “And we’ve already agreed with North Dakota that whatever level they choose should be commiserate on both sides of the border.”
DEQ officials said that Oaks Disposal was designed by an engineer with over 30 years experience building solid waste facilities. They also said they inspected the site before issuing the permit for it.
“We determined the facility design was protective of human health and the environment,” Hendrickson said.
They added that the facility was subject to regular testing requirements. The site has a number of groundwater monitoring wells, none of which has yielded any sign of contamination, according to DEQ.
~Check back for Part 2 of this story or get the Sunday, June 22, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review for the whole story.~