Written by John Plestina
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality began a permitting process during February that could eventually allow Clay Butte, a Minnesota company, to establish a radioactive Bakken Oilfield waste dump near Culbertson.
The proposed disposal site would be placed on 149 acres of a 160-acre site on the west side of Montana Hwy. 16, about five miles north of Culbertson.
There are at least 12 residences within one mile of the site.
“It’s going through the completeness review process,” Rick Thompson, DEQ section supervisor, said Monday, April 28. He added that the application was submitted to the state regulatory agency about two months ago.
“Questions will be asked for the applicant to respond back to us. An environmental assessment for public comment will be the next step,” Thompson said.
“It could take over a year. It varies for each facility,” he said.
Thompson said a public meeting is likely in Culbertson at some point in the future.
Waste at the proposed site could contain material that is known by the acronym NORM (reoccurring radioactive material). It comes from drilling site mud, drill cuttings and oil filter socks that fluid runs through.
Waste that is classified as NORM is slightly radioactive, containing naturally occurring radioactive material. Oilfield waste contains radon, which is a gas. The other radioactive substance is radium, a solid. Both give off radioactive particles.
North Dakota produces the majority of oil field waste in the region, but lacks a radioactive waste facility.
Montana allows higher levels of radioactive waste than North Dakota.
Four Montana waste handlers have applied for permits, including one landfill near Glendive that is already operational.
Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers has expressed concern about the proposal. He said recently that he believes the DEQ will approve the proposal.