Environmental groups want access to waste draft study
BISMARCK — Two environmental groups have called for the immediate release of a draft study on the safety and handling of North Dakota’s radioactive oilfield waste that has been found dumped illegally in remote areas.
The Dakota Resource Council and the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition cite the state Health Department’s “continuous secretive nature” on oil-related issues as a roadblock in making public a draft study, which was recently completed by Argonne National Laboratories on behalf of the department.
“Because there has been a continuous pattern of the fox guarding the hen house in the relationship between the state Health Department and the oil industry, it is critically important that state officials do not hide the findings of Argonne National Laboratories about acceptable levels of cancer causing radioactive waste,” waste coalition spokesman Darrell Dorgan said in a statement.
Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section, said Thursday what Argonne had completed is a preliminary draft that has since undergone an internal review by health officials and will not be released to the public until changes are made.
“It’s a working draft. We want to make sure it’s accurate and has appropriate information and doesn’t confuse the issue,” he said, adding Argonne has received the department’s comments, which will be incorporated into the final document.
The ball is now in Argonne’s court, and Glatt said he expects the final document to be released within two months.
He said the Dakota Resource Council will receive the final document, as well as the working draft, when it is completed and ready for public review.
Glatt said the health department has been transparent in everything it has done, including the reporting of spills, and balked at claims of being secretive and withholding information.
“They’re just not being engaged. (The department) has gone out of its way to make information available. It doesn’t serve the purpose to send out different draft documents. … It’s an important issue, we want to do this right,” he said.
The council has submitted an open records request asking for the initial results of the Argonne report on radioactive waste. Dorgan said Thursday the North Dakota’s Open Records law takes precedence over what health officials deem appropriate.
“What the administration and health department want and what state law requires are two entirely different things,” he said. “It’s a document that was paid for by the people of North Dakota — oil companies probably have a copy. Now the public needs to see a copy of it.”
In July 2013, members of the two environmental groups met with health department officials to discuss radioactive waste being dumped illegally in North Dakota. At that time, the department was planning a study of radioactive waste to be paid for by the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which was a “clear case of conflict of interest,” Dorgan said in a news release.
As a result, the health department commissioned the study to be done by Argonne, he said.
North Dakota doesn’t currently allow oilfield waste known as filter socks, which have low levels of radiation, to be disposed of in the state, forcing companies to transport them to dumps in other states. But some companies have dumped filter socks illegally, prompting officials to begin developing rules that will enhance the state’s ability to track the generation, storage, transportation and disposal of the waste.