Voters to decide on waste facility
The North Dakota Department of Health's Waste Management Division made a final recommendation Tuesday evening to permit an oil production waste facility in Bowman County, but voters could have the final say.
After spillage, leakage and testing failure caused closure of his similar Montana site, Dale Leivestad, owner of Petrocomp, a division of D&M Water Service, Inc. of Baker, Mont., has worked with the state health department for three years in modifying and fine tuning a permit to allow a similar facility about 14 miles south of Marmarth.
The facility would serve as a compost disposal cell for a solid byproduct produced by centrifuging oil exploration and production waste.
"We're taking it very seriously," said Scott Radig, director of the state's waste management division. "We don't want there to be any question that there's any special favors or anything out of the ordinary being done. There's a lot of concern about it and we want everybody to understand that we're very stringently following the state rules."
Until the issue of whether to permit the facility goes to voters on June 8, whether to accept, decline or change the permit's recommendations rests in the hands of the Department of Health's Environmental Health Section Chief Dave Glatt.
With the assistance of the North Dakota Office of Attorney General, Glatt will verify the permit's legality and should have a final decision in one to two weeks, Radig said.
Petrocomp's preliminary mapping for the site contains two disposal cells, each measuring about 85 feet by 105 feet with an approximate 10,000-ton capacity per cell, Radig said.
After receipt of 13 written comments and a March 4 public comment meeting in Bowman where water contamination and erosion were among top concerns, two additional conditions were placed on the permit, bringing the total to 53, Radig said.
"People are concerned, and rightly so," Radig said.
One newly added condition requires a setback distance of 60 to 75 feet from any high-erosion areas, Radig said, adding it was a valid concern.
Pam Hestekin, a resident who has followed the process closely and lives 3 1/2 miles southeast of the proposed site, said the condition is "quite a difference."
Hestekin said the previous permit's version had the setback on a hill that drained into an area leading to the Little Missouri River.
During the public comment meeting, requests were made to have an entity outside of Petrocomp conduct inspections.
A second provision added increased inspections, oversight and sample collection.
"The condition asks for an additional annual fee to be put on the permit and that money would be used to pay for an outside party to do inspections, and we're working on making arrangements with the Southwest District Health Unit in Dickinson to do those additional inspections," Radig said.
The permit does not list a specific number of inspections to be conducted by the outside agency, but requires monthly reports by Petrocomp.
Previous concerns of water contamination in the Fox Hills Aquifer were looked into by the State Geological Survey and State Water Commission, Radig said.
Both agencies found no aquifer to be in immediate danger, with the Fox Hills formation situated about 1 1/2 miles from Leivestad's proposed site, Radig said.
If the state health department gives the permit a go-ahead, North Dakota Century Code allows the Bowman County Commission 60 days to place the issue on a ballot for an election, said Bowman County State's Attorney Nici Meyer Clarkson.
The issue of whether to permit the facility was placed on the county's June 8 ballot.
"It's my understanding that if there is an election on it and it's disapproved by the voters, they cannot issue the permit based on the statute," Meyer Clarkson said.
Hestekin said while she feels the additional conditions are a step in the right direction, she and her husband Don still have reservations.
"We are still very concerned about this even coming in because of the type of waste it is that they're bringing in is, I just feel, very hazardous," Hestekin said. "I just feel it should be a county decision, not the decision of a few."
A call to Leivestad went unreturned.