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MT DEQ Proposes Quadrupling Radioactive Waste Disposal Limit

Because of concerns for their water sources, residents of Glendive, Mont. are pushing DEQ to make rules about radioactive oil waste. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
Because of concerns for their water sources, residents of Glendive, Mont. are pushing DEQ to make rules about radioactive oil waste. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
September 3, 2019

GLENDIVE, Mont. – The latest proposed rules for disposing of radioactive oil waste in Montana have some residents concerned.

The state Department of Environmental Quality wants to raise the radioactive limit from 50 picocuries per gram to 200.

The state already has licensed four landfills to accept the radioactive byproduct of oil drilling.

Oaks Disposal near the eastern town of Glendive has been accepting radioactive waste since 2013 and nearby residents have urged DEQ to come up with regulations for the waste. The agency's first rule draft came in 2017.

Maggie Copeland is a Glendive resident and member of Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group.

"Now we get these new rules and I'm just shocked,” she states. “I honestly am just shocked that they want 200 picocuries when 50 has been the limit all along. It just feels like we're at the race to the bottom of a waste dump here."

Copeland says the new proposal could attract more waste from North Dakota's oilfields. The limit in that state is 50 picocuries per gram.

And Copeland worries other surrounding states with lower limits could use Montana as a dumping ground as well.

She says the worst case scenario is that landowners in and near Glendive lose their water. She says waste trucks drive by a crucial source of water for the community, Deer Creek, and one accident could do them in.

"We're always going to have this industry waste,” Copeland states. “There's going to be tons and tons and tons of it. But we can't create water and we can't create soil. I mean, once it's fouled, it's game over."

The other three licensed disposal sites, which haven't started accepting radioactive waste yet, are in Culbertson, Missoula and Plentywood.

DEQ is accepting public comment through Oct. 21 and holding meetings on the proposal in Glendive on Sept. 24 and Helena on Oct. 10.

Disclosure: Northern Plains Resource Council contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT