Big Oil wants North Dakota to ease radioactive waste laws (VIDEO)

Amid falling oil prices nationwide, energy industry players in North Dakota want officials to alter radioactive waste disposal laws so that more toxic fracking fluid can be stored in-state, saving companies tens of thousands of dollars per truckload.

Radioactive waste from the energy industry is currently sent outside North Dakota, due to rules that bar state landfills from accepting more than a minor amount of radiation.

The state’s hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in the Bakken shale region is believed to have produced between 27 and 70 tons of radioactive waste per day in 2014, Reuters reported, though the state is set to release its first annual report on the issue next month.

“Currently we have a very, very low threshold for radioactive material that can be disposed in the state," Rob Port, editor of, told RT.

“What they're aiming to do is actually raise that level so that a lot of the low-grade, what's called naturally-occurring radioactive material, or NORM, produced in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota can be disposed of in-state instead of being shipped out-of-state.”

READ MORE: North Dakota pipeline leaks crude oil, 3mn gallons of fracking byproduct

The most common form of radioactive waste in the state is a filter sock – a mesh tube through which fracking wastewater is shot before it is injected back into the ground.

To unleash oil or natural gas, fracking requires blasting large volumes of highly pressurized water, sand, and other chemicals into layers of rock. The contents of fracking fluid include chemicals that the energy industry and many government officials will not name, yet they insist the chemicals do not endanger human health, contradicting findings by scientists and environmentalists. Once used, toxic fracking wastewater is then either stored in deep underground wells, disposed of in open pits for evaporation, sprayed into waste fields or used over again.

Fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination, an uptick in earthquakes in other states, exacerbation of drought conditions and a host of health concerns for humans and the local environment.

The oil industry in North Dakota says upping the level of acceptable waste allowed in the state could save companies at least $10,000 per truckload of waste shipped to other states. With 11,942 active wells in the state, officials say a higher threshold could mean annual savings of about $120 million overall.

"You're talking hundreds of dollars to transport versus tens of thousands" if the state changes regulations, said Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

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If the change is made, Oct. 1 is the earliest the standards would change, according to Reuters, and would mean North Dakota would still remain below nearby Colorado, Idaho, and Utah’s disposal levels.

"It may help out some of the smaller producers, who may have smaller profit margins,” Port told RT. “For them, it may help them out as an option, to be able to do something like this.”

The current raid on the Bakken shale region has forced North Dakota to grapple with both the good and bad of large-scale energy development.

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Last week, it was reported to the state that nearly three million gallons of saltwater brine – a fracking byproduct – and an unknown amount of crude oil leaked from a northwest North Dakota pipeline into a creek that feeds into the Missouri River. Officials called the leak, which began the first week of January, the largest of its kind in state history.

North Dakota Industrial Commission spokeswoman Alison Ritter said this week said this week that the ruptured pipeline – owned by Summit Midstream Partners LP and operated by subsidiary Meadowlark Midstream Co. – had not been inspected by the state prior to being used.

As reported by, the North Dakota saltwater spill is one of many pipeline accidents across the US in this month alone. A line in West Virginia transporting ethane exploded this week, and 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Yellowstone River from a ruptured pipeline in Montana. A natural gas pipeline exploded in Mississippi, and a second North Dakota incident set loose 20,000 gallons of brine.