Montana landfill becomes a destination for oilfield waste

Oaks Disposal, an oilfield waste landfill near Lindsay, Mont., can accept waste with naturally occurring radioactive material that can’t be disposed of in North Dakota. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

LINDSAY, Mont. – An oilfield waste landfill that opened last June in eastern Montana is getting about half of its waste from North Dakota.

“It seems to be getting larger,” said owner Ross Oakland. “North Dakota’s starting to find out about me.”

The Oaks Disposal landfill in rural Glendive is the closest destination to the Bakken that can accept naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM. The landfill accepts NORM waste at levels up to 30 picocuries per gram, compared with North Dakota’s limit of 5.

Before Oaks Disposal opened, operators in the Bakken had to send waste to Colorado, Idaho, Texas or other states. Sending waste such as filter socks, tank sludge other materials to Oaks is about half the cost of sending it to facilities farther away, Oakland said.

Oaks Disposal has about 23 acres that are permitted for disposal, which will be added in phases. It is expected to have enough capacity to last about 14 years.

It features a double liner, a leachate collection and removal system that captures moisture, monitoring wells around the perimeter to monitor groundwater and a stormwater detention pond.

Ross Oakland, owner of Oaks Disposal, pictured Sunday, Nov. 17, near Lindsay, Mont., continues to use this water well that is adjacent to his new oilfield waste landfill. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which permitted the facility, has requirements for how such landfills are constructed and operated. Rick Thompson, the department’s solid waste section supervisor, said Oaks Disposal has been inspected and is in full compliance.

The department recently received an application for a second oilfield waste landfill near Bainville, about 23 miles from Williston, Thompson said.

That proposal, from BAC Disposal, is for a landfill of similar size to Oaks, Thompson said. Staff are still working with the company to finalize its application. Once it’s complete, the department will conduct an environmental assessment and seek public comment.

“We’re still early in the process on that,” Thompson said.

The department received some comments in opposition to Oaks Disposal, with most focused on concerns about increased truck traffic, Thompson said.

Terry Punt of the Montana-based Northern Plains Resource Council said he’s concerned about Montana becoming a destination for North Dakota oilfield waste.

Punt, a member of the council’s oil and gas task force, said residents are worried about traffic and the potential for contaminated water supplies and contaminated dust. The group also worries whether there’s enough oversight for the landfills.

“It could be a nightmare, or has the potential to be,” said Punt, who lives near Birney.

The group wasn’t aware of the Oaks Disposal during the permitting process, but they plan to follow the new proposal.

“It wasn’t really on our radar. Now it is. Now we’re watching more closely,” Punt said.

Oakland, a farmer who has lived in the area his entire life, said he’s proud of his facility. Oakland, who worked as a driller in the 1980s before switching to farming full time in 1986, said he’d prefer to see the waste disposed of properly in a regulated facility.

“It’s a very, very safe, high-tech system,” he said.

Oakland and his employees drink water from a well not far from the disposal area. He and his family live near the facility and continue to farm the land adjacent to the landfill.

“I would never jeopardize something in our future,” Oakland said. “Money doesn’t mean that much to me.”

NORM accounts for about a third of the waste Oaks Disposal has received so far, Oakland said. The landfill has been able to accept about 95 percent of it, but it has rejected some loads and sent them to Colorado, which accepts a higher level of radiation.

“Some of it is still too hot for us,” he said.

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