Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Officials to test Minot proppant after oilfield waste found radioactive

January 24, 2012
By DAVE CALDWELL - Staff Writer (dcaldwell@minotdailynews.com) , Minot Daily News
The North Dakota Department of Health said Monday that it will be testing bags filled with proppant sand stacked in downtown Minot for radioactivity this week.
The decision stems from recent news that the Williston landfill rejected 23 loads of oilfield waste since June due to radioactive contamination.
An independent testing firm called in to investigate the situation in Williston found ceramic proppant, as well as filter socks used in the process of preparing "frack sand" to be pumped into the ground, to be radioactive.
The materials found have been determined to be naturally occurring radioactive materials, but the quantities of the materials turning up in testing is far above the levels found in nature.
Those "hot" materials have been traced to proppant originating in China, according to Terry O'Clair, the director of the North Dakota Department of Health's Air Quality Division.
On Monday, hundreds of bags of proppant material could be seen stacked in plain sight just west of the Third Street viaduct in downtown Minot, at a transloading facility owned by Sand Source Services, a Canadian-owned company.
The facility loads up to 2 million pounds of frack sand onto trucks every day, according to a story on Sand Source Services that appeared in Saturday's edition of The Minot Daily News.
O'Clair said the Minot site has been checked previously at the request of some of the companies that use the proppants. Samples tested within limits of radioactive matter at that time.
"I can't say that every bag up there is like that (above allowed levels)," O'Clair said Monday. "We'll certainly come up and take a look at that. As of right now, I haven't seen any.
"There are some (in the state) - there are some that came in from China. We'll have to come up there and take a look at the ones that are stacked there to make sure."
Hundreds of the bags stacked in downtown Minot Monday are clearly marked "Made in China."
O'Clair said the meter that the Department of Health currently utilizes uses for testing is accurate only at temperatures above zero degrees.
It was deployed to Williston last week, but couldn't be used immediately due to subzero temps.
"I've talked to my staff, and we're going to get up to Minot sometime this week," O'Clair said. "We won't collect samples, but we'll take a meter up there to do some readings."
He said a good way to characterize the testing would be utilizing a Geiger counter on the bags.
Also present at the Minot site in plain view Monday were multiple empty bags resembling those the proppant is stored in, as well as several grain augers that appear to be positioned for use loading trucks.
If augers are being used to move proppant materials, there would be a possibility dust is being emitted from the site, which is obviously not enclosed in any way.
"We'll certainly take a look at that too," O'Clair said Monday.
In addition, photos taken in June 2011 show proppant bags sitting in the floodwaters of the Souris River. Sand Source Services said in Saturday's story that proppant material was inundated in the flood.
The Williston landfill began turning radioactive material away in June.
It is not yet known how much - if any - of the radioactive material is, or ever was, present at the Minot site.
Nor is it known at this point how much material would be needed to cause potential harm to people - or what type of harm that could be.
O'Clair noted that it is important to remember that naturally occurring radioactive materials - including the ones found in Williston contaminated loads - are present throughout the state.

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