$700K in fines levied for wrongful sewage disposalThe North Dakota Department of Health on Friday announced more than a half-million dollars in penalties for two companies found to have improperly disposed of septic waste in the Oil Patch.
By: Bryan Horwath, The Dickinson Press
The North Dakota Department of Health on Friday announced more than a half-million dollars in penalties for two companies found to have improperly disposed of septic waste in the Oil Patch.
The health department penalized MonDak Septic Service out of Stanley with a $200,000 fine and Hurley Enterprises out of Fairview, Mont., with a $500,000 penalty. The two companies engaged in improper dumping of domestic septic wastes from Oil Patch industrial housing locations at various sites in McKenzie County, Williams County and Mountrail County in western North Dakota, according to a release.
“These wastes were disposed of on farmland, but it was not being done properly,” said Dennis Fewless of the health department. “The key issue is to make sure you spread these wastes thin enough to be beneficially reused by crops and not just concentrated in one place where the driver stops, opens the valve and has a cup of coffee while it all runs out. We had situations where that was being done over and over in the same area.”
The infractions happened in 2011 and 2012 and were disclosed last summer. Dave Glatt of the health department said about 140 loads of raw sewage were dispersed by the two companies combined with each load containing at least 4,000 gallons of waste. Each of the responsible drivers involved were also assessed a $1,500 penalty, according to the release.
When reached by phone Friday, a receptionist at MonDak said company owner Beau Vachal had no comment.
Dave Gorham, who identified himself as a spokesman for Hurley said the wastes dumped by the company’s haulers did not include hydraulic fracturing wastewater and was not treated.
“The state is looking for a poster child — they want to make sure everyone knows what the rules are,” Gorham said. “They originally came to us with a number more than twice (the $500,000) than what we settled on, but this is still a very high number for anything like this. We will pay the amount because we’d rather be friends with the department of health than get in a big fight.”
Both Fewless and Gorham said the ballooning of oil-related activity in the Bakken in the past several years has caused hardship for companies hauling and disposing of Oil Patch domestic wastewater from rig sites and man camps.
“The laws in the state of North Dakota have been extremely ambiguous,” Gorham said. “There’s no training for these types of practices and some of these rules have been implemented at the last minute. I think what you’ll see is most of the companies that do this type of work will get nailed with something.”
Gorham said “field applying,” the practice of using private contracted land to spread septic wastewater, is a common practice to his knowledge in western U.S. states. Both Fewless and Gorham said companies working in North Dakota will approach landowners for permission to dump in certain areas and negotiate a sale price for use of the land. Gorham said Hurley stopped the practice of field applying in April and now only discards raw sewage in lagoons.
“The state wasn’t prepared for the amount of oil field waste that was coming in,” Gorham said. “When it hit, they weren’t prepared with the rules. In Montana, they have a permit process through their health department where they actually permit the landowner. In Montana, you have to come back and use a certain amount of lime depending on how much nitrogen is in the soil. What’s wrong in North Dakota, in my opinion, is that they don’t permit the land so anyone with a truck can go to anyone with some land and spread and pay the fee agree upon.”
Fewless said the DH does license septic tank pumpers and allows the practice of field applying, although certain precautions — such as not dumping into ravines and other highlands where wastes can runoff into streams and other bodies of water — are expected to be taken.
Under the ND Century Code, proper disposal of the contents of “cesspools, septic tanks or privies shall not be disposed upon ground within 1,000 feet of any residence or public road or endanger the purity of any water, either on the surface or under the surface of the ground.” The rules do state, however, that such wastes “may be disposed of by spreading on the land or by burying in such places and in such a manner as will not violate” a set of five criteria listed in the Century Code.
“We are looking at updating our septic pumping rules as they were developed back in the 1950s,” Fewless said. “Until the last few years and the increased activity in the Oil Patch, the rules were adequate. This level of activity and the amount of waste everybody’s dealing with has raised the bar and we need to have a better system of tracking what these companies are doing.”
Fewless said there is no database kept by the state of which landowners lease land for dumping purposes. Gorham said he estimates somewhere between 50 and 100 companies regularly haul and dispose of Oil Patch domestic septic waste. Since discovery of the violations, the DH said both companies have been in compliance with state regulations. Hurley owner Vess Hurley was not available for comment for this story.