New report finds increased threat from radioactive oil & gas waste in North Dakota

Hazardous waste exemption is largest obstacle to protecting North Dakota

new report released today by the national environmental nonprofit Earthworks reveals that North Dakota’s massive surge in fracking wastewater production, also known as “produced water,” has potentially increased North Dakotans exposure to carcinogens, heavy metals, and radioactivity.

Earthworks calculates that in 2018 alone, the fracking boom generated 460 million barrels of waste water–one barrel for each barrel of oil crude produced.  That totals 19 billion gallons, or enough waste water to fill the bathtub in every household of North Dakota 623 times.

As in other states, the North Dakota fracking boom has been accompanied by a parallel boom in citizen complaints. Increases in leaks, spills, well blow-outs, and air pollution have led to a sustained outcry for officials to take action to protect citizens from threats to human and animal health, clean air and clean water, and public safety.

North Dakota allows the spreading of wastewater on roads, on-site burial, and the storage in often-leaky pits rather than more secure holding tanks. The state fails to require complete testing and disclosure of waste materials or track the management and disposal of all wastes.

“Existing state rules do not protect North Dakota in part because they don’t fully account for radioactive and carcinogenic substances,” said Earthworks Research and Policy Analyst and report author Melissa Troutman, “Unscientific, unjustifiable legal exemptions may protect oil and gas companies from liability, but these weak rules endanger the public and ignore decades of data to do so.”

The new report is based on a comprehensive review of data the state requires oil and gas companies to submit, as well as the municipal and private waste disposal facilities that receive liquid and solid fracking waste.

Case studies in the report show how regulatory loopholes exempt the industry from hazardous waste laws and hide the ingredients in fracking waste, which makes treatment and disposal of this waste dangerous. Testing and reporting, where it does happen, can be inaccurate. The impacts of dangerous waste transportation and disposal on residents are often untold and devastating.

“Living on the front lines of oil and gas in the Bakken, we live the impacts from spills, flaring and venting every day,” said Lisa DeVille, a resident of Mandaree on the Fort Berthold Reservation and Board Member of the Dakota Resource Council. “We don’t know if our water is safe to drink. We have had many oil and gas production waste spills, including one of the largest in North Dakota, five miles north of Mandaree – one million gallons of wastewater brine spilled by Crestwood.”

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Waste Report also provides an interactive map (designed by Fractracker Alliance) for residents to determine if oil and gas waste is disposed of or has spilled near them in addition to a list of recommendations for state and local policymakers, including the closing of the state’s harmful oil and gas hazardous waste loophole.

“The state of North Dakota’s ‘critical infrastructure’ must not jeopardize the health and safety of any North Dakotan, especially those who work and live in close proximity to radioactive oil & gas waste,” said Representative Ruth Buffalo, District 27, North Dakota.  “This exposure will increase the vulnerability to poor health outcomes which will require critical care in the future. It’s important the state put forth health and safety protections for not only workers in this industry but the general public. Every decision made today will impact our future generations.”

Interactive North Dakota Oil and Gas Waste Map & other resources

  • Use the interactive North Dakota Waste Map: FrackTracker Alliance has created a map of disposal sites for oil and natural gas waste, including injection wells, as well as crude oil and brine (wastewater) spills in North Dakota. All of these disposal and spill site locations present a potential danger to the environment through migration, leaching, and introduction of toxics like radium-226 and benzene
  • Earthworks’ North Dakota Frack Waste Report is part of a multi-state series expanding on research from the national report Still Wasting Away covering the increasing threat of hazardous oil and gas waste and the legal loopholes that allow for its reckless transportation and disposal.
  • 34,000 gallon oil and gas wastewater spill occurred north of New Town, ND, this past Sunday, June 16th.  Only half of the wastewater was recovered according to news reports.  Another smaller spill recently took place in early May in McKenzie County according to the ND Department of Environmental Quality.