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After 4 Years of Concerns, MT DEQ Drafts Radioactive Waste Rules

Rancher Seth Newton has been concerned for years about a radioactive oil waste facility upstream from his property. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
Rancher Seth Newton has been concerned for years about a radioactive oil waste facility upstream from his property. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
August 25, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – After more than four years of urging, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has released draft rules to oversee the disposal of radioactive oil waste in the state.

Since 2013, the Oaks Disposal facility near Glendive has been the destination for more than 250,000 tons of radioactive waste, mostly from North Dakota.

The Northern Plains Resource Council has been raising concerns since the facility opened about the lack of oversight and potential devastation it could wreak on farmers if a leak into nearby water sources were to occur.

"We're in here for the long haul and our livelihoods depend on this land being viable, so me and my neighbors feel it's a worthwhile pursuit trying to get something that we can rest our weight on to protect generations of investments into this land," says Seth Newton, a rancher in Glendive and a spokesman for Northern Plains.

While Newton says the Montana DEQ has an opportunity to get the rules right, he has concerns.

He says allowing self-reporting for groundwater monitoring doesn't provide enough oversight, and he maintains provisions securing facilities for a 100-year flood event are a reasonable request.

While other states such as North Dakota and Colorado have addressed the oil and gas industry's exemption from federal hazardous waste standards, Montana has been slower to do so. Newton says that has come at a cost, especially for ranchers and farmers in the eastern part of the state.

"It seems like they look out for the out-of-state waste generators infinitely more than their own citizens of the state here,” he states. “If we could get half the respect that the out-of-state oil waste generators are getting, I think we'd be way better off."

Montana DEQ is accepting public comments on the draft rules through Oct. 18. Public hearings on the rules are scheduled for Sept. 7 in Helena and Sept. 20 in Sidney.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT