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Energy & Environment

Maps Zero In On Oilfield Waste Spills, Disposal Sites

Oil and gas production creates waste that can wreak havoc on farmland and pose health risks.

A new series of maps from the Western Organization of Resource Councils shows locations for waste spills and disposal facilities in North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

Landowners like Daryl Peterson know the risks of living near a wastewater disposal well. The retired North Dakota farmer says he’s experienced 10 spills since 2011.

“On my own property I have found that the damage from saltwater brine, if not immediately cleaned up, is going to be permanent and will grow like cancer in the soil and water resources,” he said.

Brine is supersaturated saltwater, a byproduct of oil drilling. If it spills, the ground can stay infertile for decades.

The maps show where these spills have occurred, and they also highlight sites where oilfield waste is disposed -- both brine and solid, radioactive waste like sludge. Long-term exposure poses health risks, including an increased risk of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Much of the waste is not regulated by the EPA,” said Scott Skokos of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “There’s no EPA guidance on that. It’s all left up to the states.”

States like Wyoming and Colorado lack enforceable regulations for solid radioactive oilfield waste. North Dakota last year set rules for facilities to accept that waste. The Dakota Resource Council, a member of Skokos’s group, is suing over those rules.

Editor’s Note:  Since we first published this story, it has come to our attention that some of the information in the maps is inaccurate.  We are checking with the group that made the maps and their sources, and will post updates as we get them.  We regret the error.  

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