Under a new law (HB 1390), North Dakota oil/natural gas and health department officials are looking to enhance the state's oversight and handling of waste -- including radioactive materials -- from  drilling sites that have grown substantially in recent years with the oil boom.

Waste treated on wellsites is regulated by the state Department of Mineral Resources' (DMR) oil/gas division, and if it is transported offsite, the Department of Health (DOH) has the lead oversight. Typically, the waste is going to landfills, but under HB 1390 various recycling alternatives are being examined.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jack Dalrymple helped open the state's first facility for reducing, recycling and reusing drill cuttings produced at wellsites. Nuverra Environmental Solutions brought in its patented technology, Terrafficient (sm), which includes 100% reuse of the cuttings through a facility being developed in Watford City, ND.

"North Dakota is committed to developing innovative ways to recycle and reuse drill cuttings and to identify value-added and beneficial uses," said Dalrymple, noting that the pilot program was established by the passage last May of HB 1390.

HB 1390 provides for an oilfield waste recycling program, similar to one in Texas, that establishes a two-year period for companies to create drill-cuttings recycling programs (see Shale Daily, April 16). Last year, state officials were criticized for not handling the increase in wellsite waste that has come with surging production from the Bakken/Three Forks shale plays (see Shale Daily, July 30, 2014).

Nuverra CEO Mark Johnsrud said his company is working with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota on the scientific basis for its process, which can change the cuttings for use in applications such as road bases, gravel additives, construction fill and flowable fill, all of which avoid dumping the waste in landfills.

DOH Waste Management Division Director Scott Radig told local news media that in approving the Nuverra operation the state agency is "fine-tuning" its operations. He expects the cuttings recycling program to be commercially operational late this year or in the first quarter next year.

DOH currently regulates a dozen oilfield waste disposal facilities in North Dakota, and with the low oil price-induced slowdown in drilling, the volumes going into landfills have decreased this year, Radig said. Longer term, however, he expects more landfills being permitted.

The in-state facilities will not handle radioactive technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material. It will continue to be trucked out of state to landfills permitted for it in places like Colorado and Idaho.