U.S. Water News Online
BISMARCK, N.D. -- The state has stopped splashing roads
with saltwater left over from oil production, at least until it gets
results from a laboratory checking the wastewater for contamination,
The state Health Department has learned, after questions from The
Associated Press, that the Transportation Department had been using
oil well wastewater, up to 10 times saltier than sea water, as a
de-icer in parts of North Dakota since the late 1960s.
Environmentalists worry it may have hurt wetlands and water
supplies. The state chapter of the Sierra Club has not found other
states that spread the wastewater as North Dakota has.
The state Industrial Commission is looking into the practice, said
Don Canton, a spokesman for Gov. John Hoeven.
"We're looking at whether there was a lapse in permitting, a lapse
in proper application or a lapse in the law,"Canton said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the state's
actions, said Diane Sipe, an agency spokeswoman in Denver.
State transportation director Francis Ziegler said a sample of the
oil well wastewater has been sent to a Minnesota lab for an analysis.
He said the department stopped using the wastewater on roads, after
the practice came under scrutiny. He would not say if the department
intends to resume using the wastewater on roads.
"We suggested that they stop but we haven't required it,"said
Dennis Fewless, the Health Department's water quality director.
Transportation officials said tens of thousands of gallons of the
oil well wastewater are used on North Dakota roads each year, and
crews have not seen any harmful effects from it. The state gets it
free from oil companies, which otherwise would have to pay to dispose
of it in underground wells.
John Edward Corrent, the owner of a Salt Lake City-based company
that processes oil well wastewater, said testing one water sample "is
not representative of squat,"since the state used wastewater from
North Dakota law requires that anyone in possession of any oil
field fluid -- including saltwater -- must keep complete and accurate
records of it. Failure to do so is a Class C felony, punishable by up
to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
"I don't think we have real specific records,"said Ziegler, of the
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