MOSCOW, April 16 (RIA Novosti) – As the US continues its drive for greater energy independence, fears remain that the increase in oil and gas drilling may lead to radioactive waste being dumped in violation of safety regulations, a comprehensive study by Bloomberg said Wednesday.
“It’s a wink-and-a-nod situation,” Darrell Dorgan, a spokesman for the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition, told Bloomberg. “There’s hundreds of thousands of square miles in northwestern North Dakota and a lot of it is isolated. Nobody’s looking at where all of it is going.”
According to the US Environment Protection Agency, radioactive trash comes in all shapes and sizes. It contaminates ground water when it is used to pulverize solid rock, or can be released into the air after being dumped into evaporation ponds, while drilling mud and sludge can spill and pollute nearby areas.
The EPA also says that traces of radioactive waste remain on excavation equipment that could be later used in construction projects, although the level of safety for such radiation is still uncertain.
The drilling boom in the US has alarmed environmentalists and public health groups. Many have since been pressuring authorities in energy producing states, like Texas and West Virginia, to tighten controls on drilling sites.
Some state governments have heeded their pleas, increasing scrutiny on operators and revising limits for landfills, sometimes retroactively, as happened in North Dakota where bags full of toxic trash were recently found in an abandoned building.
Yet some US states have been lax about their waste control, allowing many drilling well operators to bury their waste unchecked onsite.
There are no exact estimates about the total toxic waste output, but the figure for West Virginia’s landfills currently stands at 721,000 tons last year, with monthly amounts tripling since December, Bloomberg said.
It is the sheer amount of radioactive debris that makes the skin of environmental protection experts crawl. Drilling activity has been on the rise in the US since 1970, but it’s only in the past decade that the intensity of energy production has hiked, resulting in more waste than ever.
The question is where to store all this toxic waste. Two months ago, a mysterious radiation leak was discovered at the US government’s only nuclear-waste repository in New Mexico. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground salt mine, is still on lockdown pending the results of the investigation.
Texas, which leads oil and gas production in the US, has been accepting radioactive waste from other sites. It allows the toxic debris to be buried in landfills, in onsite pits, or be mixed into the soil near a drilling well, and has no intention to rethink its policy.