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Environmental groups take oil waste concerns to state health officials

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Energy Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

BISMARCK - Two environmental groups say the amount of radioactive material around the Oil Patch is at a threatening level and only increasing as the state lags in enforcing environmental regulations.

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The newly formed Energy Industry Waste Coalition and the Dakota Resource Council, a nonprofit, grassroots group, met with state health officials Thursday to express their concerns and hear what the state Department of Health is doing to beef up its enforcement.

"There seems to be an attitude at the Capitol to do whatever necessary to boost energy industry profits as much as possible," said Darrell Dorgan of Bismarck, who helped organize the waste coalition. "The role of the government is to protect the health and welfare of the people on the plains of North Dakota."

Dorgan is the owner of Dakom Communications and reported on radioactive waste in the 1980s while working as a broadcast journalist. He says he has been concerned about the improper disposal of oilfield material, some of which can be radioactive.

He said the state's inability to monitor the toxic waste means there needs to be a change in the regulations and rules in North Dakota.

"Toxic chemicals have been dumped and injected into the environment," he said. "What goes in one well, one ditch, will likely come out someone's tap tomorrow."

The two groups met with Dave Glatt, environmental health section chief for the Department of Health, who said the state is doing everything it can to enforce the waste disposal rules and impose penalties on companies found guilty of any infractions.

"With the advent of the oil boom, things have changed a little bit," Glatt said. "The environment as we know it is not going to be the same, it can't be, but our job is to minimize those impacts by making sure they stay in the law, follow the law and prosecute if they go outside the law."

The Health Department was given eight new positions by lawmakers to monitor the Oil Patch, and money to purchase lab equipment to analyze more materials.

Glatt said the state has pushed to find solutions to regulatory violations as the Health Department continues to play catch-up with the Oil Patch.

"If you screwed up on something, we weren't there with a hammer right away, we looked to fix it," he said.

But as the activity grows, he said officials are less likely to spend a lot of time finding solutions, and more time imposing penalties.

Glatt said the state has collected more in total penalties the past six months than the past few years combined.

"There are some people out there that need to be reminded how to act in North Dakota," he said.

The Department of Health will soon begin a sweeping study that will look at oil waste and the risks associated with radioactive material, Glatt said.

The cost of the study will be split between the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the Health Department, which will control the study and how it is conducted.

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Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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