Technologically-Enhanced Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Material

North Dakota is currently the only oil-producing state that does not have a disposal site for this waste material produced in the oil and gas drilling and production process. However, Williams County recently approved conditional use permits for two companies seeking to dispose of TENORM in existing landfills. Secure and Energy and WISCO Inc. must also obtain a radioactive materials license from the Department of Environmental Quality before operations can begin.

TENORM is found in drill cuttings, filter socks, produced water, tank sludge, pipe scale, etc. There are other common items that contain similar low levels of radioactivity such as smoke detectors, cat litter, bananas, coffee grounds and granite counter tops. Industrial processes concentrate the natural radioactivity in the material to a level that exceeds thresholds that require special handling and disposal. Other industries also create TENORM such as water and wastewater treatment plants, mining activities, medical facilities and fertilizer manufacturing.

TENORM is regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which requires reporting of trucks hauling the material and where it is destined for disposal. Shippers have to be licensed by the DEQ, and report what and where they’re hauling. The state produces an average of 92,000 tons of TENORM per year, all of which is now shipped out of state for disposal. If a landfill is developed for the disposal of TENORM in North Dakota, it would be permitted and monitored by DEQ. 

WDEA commissioned a research effort to determine the best options for disposal in the state. The study produced a heat map to show likely locations of future drilling activity, which are the areas where TENORM is expected to be produced in the coming years. The study is intended to allow the state to be responsible for handling most or all of the waste it generates, to prevent the industry’s vulnerability to the chance that another state may one day refuse to accept TENORM from North Dakota. Around 90 percent of the TENORM is now going to Montana, about eight percent to Idaho, and smaller amounts to Colorado and Oregon. 

States have varying limits on the level of radioactivity they will accept for disposal. Colorado’s level is 2,000 picocuries/gram, while Montana was at 200 and recently changed to 50. North Dakota also has a 50 picocuries/gram limit, and allow 25,000 tons per site per year, and no more than 3,000 tons per month.

Slurry wells are another disposal option. TENORM must be first pulverized into very fine particles and then mixed with produced water from drilling operations to form a slurry, which is injected into an underground formation by a disposal well. Three such wells have been permitted in North Dakota, but only one is currently operating. The facility, owned by KT Enterprises, began injecting slurry in April at a site near Johnsons Corner in McKenzie County.

The WDEA study led to establishment of a working group to develop recommendations for siting, permitting and monitoring of TENORM disposal operations. The group was made up of legislators, county representatives, industry experts and regulators from DEQ and the Department of Mineral Resources.

Click here for the DEQ’s database of information related to TENORM.

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Issue Updates

7/23/21 - Williams Co. Plans TENORM Hearing
The Williams County Commission is planning to hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of landfills in the county that could accept TENORM (technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material).

7/2/21 - Williams County Okays TENORM Sites for Two Landfills to Handle Oil Industry Waste
The Williams County Commission approved conditional use permits for applicants Secure Energy and WISCO Inc. to allow disposal of TENORM (Technologically-Enhanced Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Material) at their existing landfills. Secure's facility is 14 miles north of Williston, and WISCO's landfill is about 15 miles west of Williston near the Montana border.

6/25/21 - Williams County to Consider TENORM Apps
The Williams County Commission has two big decisions to make Tuesday when it meets to consider the applications of companies seeking permits to dispose of TENORM in local landfills.

6/18/21 - TENORM Disposal Projects Stalled: Next Steps to Occur at June 29 Meeting
The fate of two applications for landfill disposal of TENORM waste in Williams County is uncertain after the county planning and zoning commission recommended denial of one permit and postponed action on the other.

6/18/21 - TENORM Slurry Well in Operation: Facility Has Injected 9,000 Barrels
Disposing of TENORM waste in a landfill isn't the only option. A McKenzie County company is operating a slurry well that injects the low-level radioactive liquid thousands of feet underground. KT Enterprises began injecting slurry in April at its facility just south of Johnsons Corner in eastern McKenzie County.

5/28/21 - WDEA to Host June 16 TENORM Meeting: Info on Pending Williams County Applications
The Western Dakota Energy Association will host an informational meeting in June to give the public an opportunity to learn more about two pending applications for the disposal of TENORM waste in Williams County.

7/24/20 - WDEA board hears TENORM report; Consolidated landfill siting recommended
Members of WDEA's Executive Committee and a pair of legislators heard an initial report this week of a study commissioned by WDEA to develop recommendations for the disposal of TENORM produced in the state.

1/4/20 - WDEA to Develop TENORM Study
The Executive Committee of the Western Dakota Energy Association approved a contract this week with AE2S Nexus to help western communities determine the amount of current and future low level radioactive waste produced by oilfield operations and how best to dispose of the material.

12/20/19 - WDEA Will Consider TENORM Study
The Western Dakota Energy Association will consider formalizing a proposal next month aimed at developing a regional strategy for western counties to deal with low-level radioactive waste from oilfield drilling operations.

Resources and References

Media Coverage

WISCO, Secure Energy get TENORM amendment for special waste landfill
6/29/21 -
TENORM applications meet resistance from Williams County Planning and Zoning
6/18/21 -
Tribune editorial: Radioactive waste site a positive step
6/16/21 -
TENORM meetings are coming up for two special waste landfills
6/3/21 -
Williams Co. extends moratorium on oilfield waste
11/11/20 -
Man gets 4 months for radioactive waste dumping case
10/22/20 -
Radioactive waste study pushes uniform permitting; slurry wells a hot topic
7/23/20 -
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