WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota Health Department official says his office may give the green light for wider use of oil field-produced brine on roads for dust control this year.
Dave Glatt, the head of the Health Department's Environmental Health Section, said that pilot projects and tests are underway to determine the environmental impact of brine's use on roads as well as its effectiveness compared to commercially available products. He said the Health Department is also working to identify saltwater disposal wells that could be used as a source for brine.
"We want to maintain the same level of dust control and the same level of environmental impact, if not less," Glatt said. No timetable was set for a decision, he said.
Brine is a byproduct of oil production and is between 10 and 30 times saltier than seawater, Glatt said.
Dust is a big problem on the rural gravel and scoria roads that are essential to oil production and crisscross the western part of the state. On dry days with heavy traffic, the plumes of dust can create near-whiteout conditions.
But controlling dust is expensive. Magnesium chloride, the most commonly used dust control agent, can cost $7,000 per mile to treat a roadway. Brine can be obtained for free from oil companies, only requiring users to pay for labor and transport. That means hundreds of dollars per mile rather than thousands.
Glatt said that brine isn't as effective in controlling dust as other agents and could require more treatments, but that the cost remains attractive.
Several counties in the state's oil patch have expressed interest in switching to brine for dust control to save money.
Brine from oil fields was used on North Dakota roads for decades until the Health Department stopped the practice in 2007 after The Associated Press raised questions about it. Currently, brine's use on roadways is allowed on a very limited case-by-case basis.