Unmitigated Disaster: A Report From The Oil Wastes

DRC gieger counter

The Bakken oil boom in North Dakota came into sharp focus on December 30, 2013 when a train carrying volatile bakken crude derailed and exploded near Cassleton, North Dakota. The story made national and world news, matching recent North Dakota headlines ranging from the recent uncovered not publicly disclosed 300 oils spills to a rise in sex trafficking. Now, as the fallout from the latest oil disaster clears in North Dakota, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide the consequences of the oil industry’s effect on North Dakota’s land, air, and communities.

Unedited Media recently spoke about these consequences with Scott Skokos, a field organizer from the Dakota Resource Council. Skokos describes the oil boom as, “ground zero for the battle between agriculture and industry.” He spoke about the illegal dumping of radioactive waste into landfills like found in Williston, North dakota. He explained that “toxic oil industry waste” was appearing dumped across North Dakota. He punctuated his findings with photographs of water contaminated with radioactive material the DRC had measured with a Geiger Counter.

DRC checking for radioactive readings

Skokos explained, “What goes down must come up. There’s going to be [chemicals] coming up from these wells.” Not only are all the chemicals being pushed down the wells coming back up and some of the already radioactive chemicals are coming back out in the brine and produced water, but a concentration of NORM (Normally occurring radioactive material) is rising from where it was static, beneath the surface.

Skokos said we’re surrounded by NORM in low concentration and that these dangerous radioactive materials aren’t really accessible to humans, but become accessible when the oil industry comes in and fracks a well creating waste or TENORM, “Technologically enhanced normally occurring radioactive material”.

The EPA defines TENORM as:

‘“TENORM is material containing radionuclides that are present naturally in rocks, soils, water , and minerals and that have become concentrated and/or exposed to the accessible environment as a result of human activities such as manufacturing, water treatment or mining operations.”

DRC Used frack socks strewm about

According to Skokos, TENORM has appeared, by way of illegal dumping, in North Dakota. The DRC recently went out with Geiger counters and tested frack socks, pools of water near frack sites, mud cuttings and found many gieger readings above the 5 pCi/g state allowable radioactive levels. He explained that frack socks are what everyone seems focused on, but that “The mud that’s coming up from these wells is a mix of TENORM and chemicals.” some of which read as high as 190 pCi/g, far above state allowable limits.

The waste is being strewn across North Dakota as oil companies skirt the cost of disposing of these dangerous materials, according to Skokos.

DRC Stated Toxic waste near frack site

He said there is a proper way to dispose of this radioactive waste, “They’re supposed to be taking them to specific waste sites that are permitted to take high levels of TENORM,” the nearest waste site is in Colorado. Instead, oil companies are leaving the waste for communities and landowners to deal with the industry fallout.

This situation is finally coming to light in North Dakota. Skokos explained that people are realizing what’s happening around them. “Three years ago nobody knew what a frack sock was, or NORM.” Recently five counties banned frack waste sites on their land. Skokos explained that people need to listen to the farmers and ranchers of North Dakota. “They should have a voice in what happens to them.”

Skokos left us with a story of a warehouse with used frack socks piled against the walls.

DRC Piles of used frack socks

They spoke with the workers in their factory who told them that birds fell dead from the rafters and over time workers started to feel ill. These health effects will be long term, he said. Right now we are told that the Oil Industry is running unchecked and with little to no oversight is able to dispose of TENORM illegally and unnoticed. Skokos suggested regulating frack socks with a cradle to grave system. “If we know these are the most dangerous things, why wouldn’t we regulate them?” They should all be accountable for the waste they’re producing Skokos said. Regardless, he said that if the oil industry does not change today, Western North Dakota will be an “unmitigated disaster.”