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Top oil county wants state inspectors on the home front

WATFORD CITY - Leaders in North Dakota's top oil producing county pushed state health officials Wednesday to consider stationing inspectors in Watford City to more closely monitor the oil and gas industry.

WATFORD CITY – Leaders in North Dakota’s top oil producing county pushed state health officials Wednesday to consider stationing inspectors in Watford City to more closely monitor the oil and gas industry.

The issue came up Wednesday during a presentation by the North Dakota Department of Health about radioactive material that is a byproduct of oil production. A landfill in McKenzie County is the first to apply to the state to accept waste with radioactivity levels up to 50 picocuries per gram.

McKenzie County leaders questioned how much state oversight there would be if the landfill gets approved for accepting the higher level of radioactivity.

“Is there a plan to have people out here closer to our area?” asked County Commission Vice Chairman Doug Nordby. “Because we’re the impacted people on this.”

County officials also referenced a photo that was presented to the McKenzie County Commission last month that showed dust blowing off a special waste landfill and onto U.S. Highway 85.

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Scott Radig, director of the health department’s Division of Waste Management, said the health department requires dust control in all landfills, but county leaders said the photo told a different story.

“If you are monitoring that, it’s not happening out here,” Nordby said.

The health department inspects special waste landfills at least once a month, Radig said. In addition, the department has a spill response team that’s on the road Monday through Friday, with one person stationed south of Lake Sakakawea and one person stationed north.

“If something big comes up, they can be there in fairly short order,” Radig said.

Suhail Kanwar, the county’s public works administrator, said the health department should open a satellite office in McKenzie County, which is home to the greatest amount of oil exploration and production.

Kanwar said the county would be willing to offer office space and he suggested the oil industry share the cost of paying for the position.

Radig said adding more permanent employees would need to be addressed by the Legislature. Currently, the health department is working to cut its budget by 10 percent for next biennium, along with similar cuts being made by other state agencies due to the revenue shortfall.

However, Radig did say the health department is in early discussions about dedicating an inspector to focus on special waste landfills, which are the facilities that can apply for licenses to accept the radioactive waste. The inspector could potentially be a temporary employee with a salary supported by the fees that come from the special waste landfill applications, Radig said.

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“We are looking at that strongly,” Radig said.

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