BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's oil industry is backing new rules intended to crack down on the illegal dumping of radioactive oil filter socks, the tubular nets that strain liquids during the oil production process.
"Our members have committed to protecting our resources," said Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents more than 500 companies working in the state's oil patch. "The industry wants to see an end to illegal dumping, too."
Beginning June 1, drillers will be required to dispose of filter socks in covered, leak-proof containers on site, according to the state Department of Mineral Resources. The containers must then be collected by a licensed waste hauler and disposed of at an authorized facility out of state.
Filter socks can become contaminated with naturally occurring radiation and are banned for disposal in North Dakota. Oil companies are supposed to haul them to approved waste facilities in other states, such as Montana, Colorado and Idaho, which allow a higher level of radioactivity in their landfills.
North Dakota has faced increased problems with illegal oil waste dumping in recent years as it has risen to become the nation's No. 2 oil producer, behind Texas. Last month, hundreds of illegal dumped filter socks were discovered in an abandoned building in Noonan, a tiny town in the northwest corner of the state. Officials said it was the state's biggest incident to date of illegal dumping of radioactive oil filter socks and will cost more than $12,000 to clean up.
North Dakota doesn't have a special fund aimed at cleaning up oil field waste. Instead, the state is tapping into another fund meant for plugging and reclaiming abandoned oil wells. That fund is paid for with oil company fees.
Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources, said existing state law requires well operators to properly dispose of any oil field waste produced at the well site. The new permit requirements are designed to strengthen compliance by requiring companies to place containers for on-site collection of filter socks, she said.
"We think this encourages proper disposal," Ritter said. "The vast majority already are."
The new permit requirements will affect all wells drilled after June 1 and about 1,500 wells that have not been drilled but already have a permit, Ritter said.
Failure to follow the new rules may result in fines of up to $12,500 a day, she said.
The size and construction of the disposal containers are not specified, under the new requirement. The state delayed the rules until June 1 to give companies time to get disposal containers on site, Ritter said.
"They don't have to be any particular size but they must be leak-proof, covered and protected from the elements," she said.
Cutting said she did not know what the additional measures would add to the expense of oil drilling.
"There will be some additional cost, but I'm not sure of the magnitude," she said.