Montana, North Dakota lawmakers to collaborate on radioactive oilfield waste problem
Monday, June 8, 2020

The debate over how to dispose of the Bakken's radioactive oilfield waste has prompted a small group of lawmakers from North Dakota and Montana to start collaborating. 

The conversations come as Montana prepares to enact a formal rule capping the radiation level of oilfield waste disposed of at landfills in the state. Much of the waste comes from North Dakota, where several projects are in the works to inject the material underground for permanent storage in McKenzie County. North Dakota has no disposal facilities. 

"I felt that we needed to actually shake hands with North Dakota as legislators and ensure that both sides were looking at the same exact issues," said Rep. Steve Gunderson, a Republican from Libby, Mont.

He said communication among lawmakers on the issue "should have been opened up years ago." He and several other Montana legislators, including at least one Democrat, plan to set up a video call soon with a few North Dakota lawmakers. They hope to keep the dialogue going and share ideas.

Gunderson has been coordinating with North Dakota Sen. Dale Patten, who has followed recent developments regarding radioactive waste in Montana. Just one landfill there accepts the waste, although several others have received authorization to do so. 

Montana has guidelines in place limiting the level of radiation to 50 picocuries per gram for waste at the facilities, and it's in the process of adopting that limit into a formal rule likely to take effect in July, said Montana Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Moira Davin.

Several people involved in the oil industry and environmental regulation in North Dakota say that the bulk of the state's radioactive waste falls below that limit and would not be rejected under Montana's proposed regulations. Montana's 50-picocurie cap matched a limit set by North Dakota regulators several years ago.

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