Investigation: Top oil producer in Bakken accused of hiring contractor that stockpiled oilfield waste
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — The top oil producer in the Bakken is linked to an investigation into radioactive oilfield waste that was stockpiled in rural McKenzie County.
Continental Resources suspended RP Services as a contractor after learning allegations from the North Dakota Department of Health that used filter socks were improperly disposed of, said Eric Eissenstat, general counsel for Continental Resources.
RP Services is one of several contractors Continental Resources has hired to provide waste disposal services, said Continental Vice President for Public Relations Kristin Miskovsky.
The health department is investigating after receiving a report of two flatbed trailers owned by RP Services in rural McKenzie County that were piled with filter socks, a type of oilfield waste known to contain naturally occurring radioactive material.
Investigators are looking at both RP Services and the company responsible for generating the filter socks, said Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section.
“There is a potential that the company that generated them could get some enforcement action,” he said.
Glatt said he could not comment on whether investigators are looking at other companies in addition to RP Services and Continental Resources.
RP Services, headquartered in Riverton, Wyo., is not a licensed waste hauler with the department of health, said Steve Tillotson, Solid Waste Division manager.
However, it’s unclear if the company was required to have such a license, and that will be part of the investigation. A company does not need a license if it is hauling waste generated by its own activities, Tillotson said.
Calls and an email seeking comment to RP Services were not returned.
The health department has not had any previous investigations involving RP Services, which has been registered with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office since 2009.
RP Services received a $27,000 fine from McKenzie County last July for sending 27 filter socks to the municipal landfill, which does not accept the waste, said Rick Schreiber, director of the county’s Solid Waste Department.
Continental Resources suspended RP Services pending the outcome of the health department’s investigation and does not tolerate a contractor’s disregard of laws and regulations, Eissenstat said in a statement.
“Continental thoroughly vets all third-party contractors and requires its contractors, including RP Services, to agree in writing that they abide by all laws, rules, and regulations, whether federal, state, or local, which may be applicable to all services or work performed, Eissenstat said.
The waste did not pose an immediate risk to the public, Glatt said, but its level of radiation measured higher than what can be disposed of in North Dakota.
The waste has been transferred to sealed containers under the direction of health investigators. The health department instructed that it not be moved until the company submits a disposal plan, Glatt said.
Crude oil and other contaminants that dripped onto the ground also required cleanup.
Schreiber, who reported the waste to state and federal officials last week after a resident sent him photos, said he’s frustrated that improper disposal of filter socks keeps happening. The McKenzie County landfill had 985 filter socks improperly disposed of last year, and Williston’s landfill foreman Brad Septka said Thursday he continues to have problems with the waste.
“What has to happen to get some enforcement action to make it known that this is not going to be accepted anymore? What do we have to do?” Schreiber said.
Most of the waste containing naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM, is sent to landfills in Idaho and Colorado, and lower level waste is now accepted at a Montana landfill, Tillotson said.
Jay Almlie, senior research manager with the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, said improper disposal incidents such as the McKenzie County case are isolated cases.
“The largest companies in the Bakken have all told me they make it standard practice to just ship it out of state,” said Almlie, who is working on research related to NORM, generated in the oilfield.
Forum News Service sent questions to several top producers in the Bakken this week to find out how they handle filter socks.
Hess Corp. monitors the disposal of the waste every step of the way, including carefully auditing the waste facilities, said spokesman John Roper. The waste is tested for NORM and shipped in containers that meet regulatory standards to Idaho or Colorado, depending on the NORM levels.
Hess declined to name which contractors it uses to haul the waste, but said in a statement, “We choose to do business with large, established companies that have the right internal policies, procedures and liability management practices in place and are in regulatory compliance.”
Oasis Petroleum contracts with Next Generation, recently acquired by SECURE energy services, to transport filter socks to a special waste landfill in Colorado, said John Jochim, senior production foreman for infrastructure.
Oasis receives an official document that certifies where the waste was hauled and that it arrived, Jochim said.
“They’re a very reputable company,” Jochim said. “We’ve done everything we can do to ensure that the socks are disposed of properly.”
Other top Bakken producers contacted did not provide responses at press time.
Kari Cutting, vice president for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said while it’s impossible to control the behaviors of all contractors or consultants, the industry group has worked to emphasize to members the importance of taking responsibility for the whole supply chain, including contractors and subcontractors.
Cutting said the industry looks forward to new rules that may be developed on NORM resulting from scientific studies that are under way. In addition to research at the EERC, the health department has contracted with Argonne National Laboratory for a study due this summer.