Earlier this year, Montana proposed quadrupling the upper limit of radioactive oil waste that could be disposed at certified sites. On Tuesday, the state Department of Environmental Quality held its first of two public hearings about the proposed rule change in Glendive.
DEQ is drafting its first comprehensive guidelines to regulate how landfills receive, dispose of and hold onto Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive waste, or TENORM, a byproduct of oil and gas operations like fracking.
DEQ is proposing a maximum of 200 picocuries per gram at the facility gate, with a facility average of 50 picocuries per gram annually. That’s up from a previous proposal that capped all TENORM disposals at 50 picocuries per gram.
Rick Thompson is DEQ’s Solid Waste Management Section Supervisor.
“We listened to your comments the first go-around and we appreciated those to the point where our chief legal decided to let those sunset and start over. That’s why we’re here again, so our intent is to get your input in the rule writing and to do the best we can," Thompson said.
About 70 people attended the meeting, which at times turned tense and emotional. More than a dozen people, mostly members of the environmental advocacy organization Northern Plains Resource Council, read comments from prepared statements.
During an informal question and answer session before the hearing, Carol Nielsen asked Thompson why Montana would set TENORM limits higher than those of neighboring states, which she said might tempt businesses based in North Dakota to dump their TENORM waste in Montana. North Dakota’s limit is 50 picocuries per gram.
“What is it doing for the taxpayer of Montana to allow this?" Nielsen asked.
"One of the things, in the rules in the statement of reasonable necessity for that issue, is to ensure that the occasional higher load actually gets disposed in a licensed facility versus being disposed of illegally," Thompson said.
There’s currently only one established landfill accepting TENORM in the state: Oaks Disposal in Glendive.
Some of the other proposed regulations detail protections and monitoring measures. Those include requiring the owner to conduct random inspections of the incoming TENORM loads and install a system to stop storm water from mixing with waste during storms. It also proposes hiring a third party to monitor groundwater on a quarterly basis.
Laurel Clawson asked for more third-party monitoring and sampling.
“What we’d like is unannounced inspections, more regular inspections - I'm not sure what they are now, quarterly I think. I think monthly would be awesome - more than just to reviewing paperwork, which is what’s in the current draft. Anyone, especially an entity motivated by profit, is capable of cooking the books,” Clawson said.
Alan Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, also stepped up to the mic.
“First of all, I’d like to thank the department staff for the time spent working through a process to effectively and reasonably regulate a segment of solid waste that has appeared to draw a rather large emotional and somewhat fear-based response," Olson said. "The solid waste being proposed for regulation under these rules are naturally occurring elements found everywhere in our everyday life.”
DEQ writes that ingesting, touching and inhaling TENORM could have negative health effects.
DEQ is scheduled to hold another public hearing on October 10 in Helena. The comment period on the proposed TENORM regulations ends October 21.