You read that right. Radioactive fracking waste, otherwise known as “Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material” (TENORM), is currently being considered for increased regulation by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Unfortunately, DEQ is proposing to QUADRUPLE Montana’s radioactivity limit from 50 to 200 picocuries per gram (PPG). Even North Dakota, hardly an example of strong environmental protection, has set a 50 PPG limit. This lax limit on radioactive material is not acceptable and will result in Montana becoming a dumping ground for this radioactive waste. We need you to contact the DEQ, and tell it to keep a limit of 50 PCG.
Most regulations governing oil and gas development are left to the states, including waste disposal. This vacuum in effective public health regulations could be filled if Montana issues strong rules that safely regulate the disposal of radioactive fracking waste. Regulations are currently important for Eastern Montana communities and residents, who are in much closer proximity to the Bakken oil boom of North Dakota and Eastern Montana, but the rules will also apply to a landfill near Missoula and any other landfill certified to receive radioactive fracking waste.
Please take action today to protect Montana’s clean water!
If you would like to submit comments directly, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail them to:
Sandy Scherer, Legal Secretary
Department of Environmental Quality
1520 E. Sixth Avenue
PO Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620
Below are ways in which DEQ’s proposed rules could be improved.
Keep our radioactivity limit the same as North Dakota’s, at 50 Picocuries per gram.
DEQ is proposing to quadruple the radioactivity limit at the gate of landfills from 50 picocuries per gram to 200 picocuries per gram. DEQ is proposing this despite requiring landfills maintain an average radioactivity concentration of 50 within the landfill. The discrepancy between these numbers does not make sense and would be an enforcement nightmare. DEQ is also proposing to double the exposure level allowed in the landfill to 200 microroentgen – putting landfill workers at risk. Our radioactivity limits should remain the same as our neighbor North Dakota. Otherwise, Montana will remain a dumping ground for the waste that the oil industry cannot get rid of across the border.
Require immediate and meaningful action in the case of contamination.
If anything goes wrong, landfills should have to tell the DEQ immediately, tell neighboring landowners and the public immediately, and stop accepting waste until contamination is addressed. This is a requirement in North Dakota.
Require landfills to test storm water for radioactivity, and to line storm water ponds.
All storm water retention ponds should be lined to prevent leaking. Additionally, storm water should be monitored for radioactivity, and corrective action should be taken if detection indicates that storm water is found to be at higher concentrations. Anything less would threaten neighbors, water quality and wildlife.
Require thicker liners.
North Dakota requires much thicker and more stringent liners than those required in Montana.
Require landfills to manage leachate better.
Currently, the rules allow facilities to simply recirculate leachate by sprinkling it back onto the top of the waste. This is not sufficient. Leachate needs to be monitored quarterly for both quality and quantity, monitored after any major precipitation event, and ultimately disposed of off-site—not just endlessly re-sprinkled back on the waste. All monitoring reports should be immediately available to the public, the state, and nearby landowners.
Require safe placement of metal waste.
The new rules allow for the acceptance of “contaminated equipment,” like metals or used pipe. Sharp corners can puncture the liner, while the added weight of metal alone can put undue weight on it. DEQ should specify the procedures required of landfills to protect the liner from bulky or sharp metal items. Landfills should never be allowed to define their own safety protocols, as the rules currently state.
Require DEQ to conduct their own environmental monitoring at these landfills.
With the exception of groundwater monitoring, all environmental monitoring at radioactive oil waste landfills is conducted by the landfill itself. DEQ should do its job and take actual samples during inspections. Landfills should not be trusted to police themselves with self-reporting. Landfill operators should be required to fund DEQ’s oversight program.
Define drill cuttings and drilling mud as radioactive fracking waste.
Drill cuttings and mud are excluded from the definition of TENORM, despite large volumes of this waste still being delivered to and received by these landfills. The functional outcome of this is that drill cuttings and mud won’t have to be tested for contaminants in the same way TENORM will be. Drill cuttings may be lower in radioactivity, but they are far from benign. They should not be exempted from the definition and thus exempt from the waste characterization criteria.
Require surprise inspections.
Currently, inspections are not required to be unannounced. This is unacceptable. A requirement should be written into the radioactive oil waste rules that specifically requires inspections be unannounced.