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Proposed borehole project draws concern from water districts

BISMARCK -- While the Energy and Environmental Research Center continues to evaluate its options for drilling an experimental borehole to test deep rock for nuclear waste storage, a joint meeting of water districts plans to take up petitions agai...

BISMARCK -- While the Energy and Environmental Research Center continues to evaluate its options for drilling an experimental borehole to test deep rock for nuclear waste storage, a joint meeting of water districts plans to take up petitions against it.

When the Upper and Lower Sheyenne Water Resource Districts meet at 9 a.m. March 16 at the Eagles Club in Valley City, the borehole project will be on the agenda.

Tor Bergstrom, of Steele County and chairman of the Upper Sheyenne district, said the groups are concerned because it’s their task to preserve the quality of the waters in their districts, including the headwaters of the Sheyenne River. They watched closely while nearby Pierce County officials stood against a borehole project near Rugby, and Bergstrom said some water district members want to join a petition against the project.

The EERC, along with Battelle Memorial Institute, are aiming to drill 3 miles down into crystalline basement rock to test whether the geology is stable and sequestered enough for long-term storage of nuclear waste. They say the project is a geological science experiment only and no nuclear waste would be involved. The federal Department of Energy awarded $35 million for the project in January.

The EERC identified a possible drilling site on state-owned land in Pierce County, but, after holding a public meeting, commissioners told the researchers this week not to bother making a drilling application there.

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Bergstrom said the water districts worry this isn’t the end of the matter.

“What we’re really afraid of is the DOE is going to do it anyway. I would say I’m worried. At this meeting, the petition will be brought up," said Bergstrom, referencing a petition already circulated in Pierce County.

EERC research director John Harju said scientists are considering options outside of Pierce County.

“At this time, we cannot say exactly where because we don’t have another site ready to discuss. There are many project criteria that must be met for a site to be acceptable,” Harju said.

Lance Gaebe, director of the Department of Trust Lands, said EERC had specifically identified the Pierce County land as a tract of interest.

“There was no other specific county or parcel identified by the EERC,” Gaebe said.

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