- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota lawmakers on Tuesday approved a measure to create a pilot project aimed at treating and recycling some of an estimated 1 million tons of oil drilling waste annually for road building and other uses.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said the project is intended to turn “mounds and mounds and piles and piles” of the drilling byproduct into beneficial use.

North Dakota’s House endorsed the bill 87-6; Senators approved it earlier. It now heads to Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s desk for his signature.

Companies targeting the rich Bakken shale formation in western North Dakota get soil, rock and other underground matter along with crude oil when they drill down nearly 2 miles then angle the well sideways for another 2 or more miles. Each time an oil well is drilled, companies are left with some two dozen semitrailer loads of drill cuttings - enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool - that either have to be stored on site or dumped in a special waste landfill, said Lynn Helms Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources.

The measure would set aside about $65,000 for the state Health Department to monitor an independent pilot project and develop standards.

“We obviously support recycling if it can be done in an environmentally safe manner,” state Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt said. “Our biggest concern is we don’t start using this stuff before we know it’s safe.”

North Dakota’s geology poses a challenge because drill cuttings can contain high concentrations of salt, which along with any oil residue would have to be removed so that it does not threaten land or underground water supplies, Glatt said.

Some companies already have pitched plans to the state Health Department, which must pick at least one of them to establish a recycling facility for the drill cuttings.

David Johnson, a North Dakota manager for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Nuverra Environmental Solutions Inc., said his company already believes it has developed a method to safely treat and recycle drilling waste from the state’s oil patch.

“In our opinion, we have developed a process for reuse that won’t have an environmental impact,” said Johnson, whose company already operates a special waste landfill in North Dakota.

Along with the state, the legislation passed Tuesday would require a third-party contractor to review the process used in the pilot project.

State officials and Johnson estimate more than 1 million tons of drilling waste is created annually in North Dakota.

Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the idea of recycling drilling waste for beneficial use “sounds good but I’m not sure if it’s the answer or not. Before we go to a pilot project, it has to have a true beneficial use and not just a way to get rid of drilling waste.”

Porter, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said the clay-like drill cuttings are ideal for building roads. Much of the material now used for road building in western North Dakota is trucked in from other parts of the state, he said.

“Either you build mountains out of it or use it for something beneficial and minimize the environmental footprint,” Johnson said.

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