Concerned citizens and politicians alike gathered in Glendive Tuesday, Sept. 24, for a public hearing and to give testimony on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) proposed regulations concerning technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM).
An hour-long question-and-answer segment kicked off the meeting, with Rick Thompson, DEQ solid waste management systems program manager, and Ed Thamke, waste and underground tank management bureau chief, fielding questions. Questions included clarification of tonnage limits at the Oaks Disposal site in Glendive, inspection practices, financial assurances requirements, liner specifications and perceived regulatory issues.
Citizens expressed concerns about proposed regulations, most often citing the fact that new regulations don’t match North Dakota’s DEQ requirements. Montana DEQ is looking to raise the gate allowance for TENORM to 200 picocuries per gram while still requiring facilities to maintain an average of 50 picocuries per gram in the landfill. This discrepancy from North Dakota, which is keeping the 50 picocuries requirement across the board, has left citizens wondering if Montana will become a dumping ground for North Dakota oil field waste.
“The statement of reasoning for that issue is to ensure that the occasional higher load actually gets disposed of in a licensed facility versus being disposed of illegally,” Thompson said.
That answer didn’t satisfy Richland County Concerned Citizens Coalition and North Plains Resource Council representative Patty Whitford, who called the response “b.s.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 50 picocuries or 200 picocuries. There’s always going to be somebody dumping something somewhere illegally,” she said. “To allow 200 picocuries just sets everybody up in eastern Montana for higher loads dumped illegally. If we keep it at 50, it’s the same across the state line. Do you think that making it 200 is making it somehow safer? I don’t think so.”
DEQ employees clarified they don’t control illegally-dumped loads and the landfill would still be required to average at 50 picocuries. The conversation shifted to comparable radiation exposure in day-to-day life. Thompson said he recently had dental x-rays that exposed him to almost twice the limit of radiation exposure the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends per year.
“Some of the daily things we do expose us to more radiation than those upper limits in our landfill,” Thompson said.
That response was again met by resistance from attendees, when one Glendive resident told Thompson those x-rays were a choice, the proposed regulations are not their choice and urged DEQ to stay impartial.
“We’re the state of Montana. We’re the United States of America. We all have a right and our right is we need to do something serious or there’s going to be a huge clean-up,” the woman said.
Thamke said the DEQ does aim to remain impartial, but that doesn’t always result in harmony from both sides.
“We acknowledge the desire to collaborate,” Thamke said. “We collaborate with North Plains, with industry. It’s our job to be right smack in the middle. Which often times means you get hit in both cheeks. But I hope you realize that we have been listening.”
A total of 14 citizens gave testimony following the Q&A portion of the meeting, including Rep. Joel Krautter from House District 35 of Richland County. He thanked the DEQ for working on the proposed rules.
“My district and many of the people here tonight have a connection to the oil and gas development industry, whether directly or indirectly,” Krautter said. “We understand all this oil field waste has to be disposed of somewhere.”
Krautter said he recognized the guiding theme of the night was for Montana rules to mirror North Dakota.
“We don’t want companies to be incentivized to dump in Montana versus North Dakota or another state,” he said, noting an obligation not just to the health and safety of citizens, but taxpayers as well. “We have to get it right the first time. I am opposed to any kind of rule set that comes out that makes Montana a potential dumping site for other states’ waste.”
Up next for the DEQ is another public comment hearing in Helena on Oct. 10. Pubic comment is open for 60 days and will close Oct. 21. After closure, Rebecca Harbage, DEQ public policy director, said the agency will closely review all comments, put together responses and consider possible changes to the regulations. This process will involve DEQ attorneys to keep any changes within legal limits. Harbage said a timeline for the process is difficult to determine until they know how many comments they receive.
“Overall, the whole map of this process, we have a total of six months to publish final rules,” Harbage said.