Weather Forecast


Health Dept., engineers: Oil field waste landfill safe

Vice President John McCain of the engineering firm Carlson McCain addresses a gathering of citizens concerned about a proposed 145-acre oil field waste landfill complex in Billings County.

MEDORA -- A proposed project to construct a giant oil field special waste landfill in Billings County is inching toward the end zone, but Ruth Molm is far from convinced that it's a good idea.

The lone voice during the official public comments portion of a hearing regarding the project Tuesday at the Medora Community Center, Molm -- who along with her husband, Curt, lives just south of Belfield -- made it clear that she's skeptical.

"I'm a local person who's interested in preserving the beauty and the environment of our state," Ruth Molm said. "I'd hate to have North Dakota become a waste dump for companies."

The Molms were among a small crowd of about 10 citizens present for the hearing, which lasted close to 40 minutes. Those in attendance were assured by North Dakota Dept. of Health officials and a Carlson McCain engineering firm representative that the planned 145-acre waste facility would be safe for area residents.

The facility would be located on a plot of land about four miles north of Fairfield, just west of Highway 85. The health department has issued a draft permit for the site and the public comments period before a final decision is made ends Jan. 26.

"These oil exploration and production wastes are being generated," Carlson McCain civil engineer John McCain said during his introduction of the plan. "My estimate is that there are 3 million tons of waste being generated every year and it needs to go somewhere. These facilities are specially designed to take these wastes and to store them safely. These wastes are not hazardous."

Special waste landfills house materials such as solidified drill cuttings, contaminated soil from releases and spills at production sites, solids from production tank bottoms and a small amount of technologically-enhanced, naturally-occurring radioactive material, among other industrial wastes. McCain said the landfill method of disposing such materials is better than other methods of disposal such as on-site reserve pits.

"(On-site reserve pits) are not monitored or inspected to the degree a landfill like this would be," McCain said. "It's a choice between having 100,000 small disposal pits scattered all across the area or consolidating that to a more centralized, better designed and inspected facility."

Last year, Billings County commissioners gave the green light to plans for the landfill, contingent upon the health department's stamp of approval. Working in partnership with Carlson McCain, Chimney Butte Environmental LLC, out of Mayer, Minn., is the company that applied for the solid waste management facility permit.

Health department officials and McCain detailed a system of special clay and plastic liners that would deter any mixing of the waste with groundwater or the nearby waterways of Magpie Creek and Spring Creek.

"I would like to know if the filings from the drill sites would affect the lining," Ruth Molm asked McCain after his presentation. "Have there been studies done on that?"

Although he said Molm raised a "good point," McCain assured her that the "first layers of waste place on top of the liner will have to be a soft material and not anything rocky or sharp that might poke a hole in it." McCain did not say if there have been any studies done regarding the compromise of special waste landfill liners.

If approved and built, the facility would be in operation for 30 years and would have an acceptance rate of 320,000 cubic yards of waste per year. The site -- which would be staffed whenever deposits are made -- would also have a stipulation that it be monitored for 30 years after its closer.

Several questions were raised before the official public comments portion of the hearing about traffic concerns, which DWN Director Scott Radig said were outside of the DH's area of concern.

Joseph Kessel, who lives about two miles from where the facility would be located, said he had a number of concerns.

"Safety is a big issue," Kessel said. "I drive Highway 85 every day and I can't see how this wouldn't cause a bottleneck somewhere. Plus, there are two creeks in that area. If there's a heavy rain or a 100-year flood, all that stuff is going to eventually find its way into the Little Missouri River."

Kessel also said he had concerns about potential odor coming from the site and any effect the dump site could have on air quality. Chimney Butte officials have said the facility, if approved, could be up and running by March.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207