Officials: Cache of illegal oil field waste found

BISMARCK (AP) – Officials in North Dakota are reporting what may be the state’s biggest incident of illegal dumping of radioactive oil filter socks, the nets that strain liquids during the oil production process.

State Waste Management Director Scott Radig said hundreds of the tubular filters were discovered last week in an abandoned building in Noonan, a town of about 200 people in northwestern North Dakota. Radig, who viewed pictures of the scene, said it’s likely to be more than twice as large as the state’s next-largest dumping incident found last month in McKenzie County.

“It appears, unfortunately, to be the biggest one we’ve found,” Radig said. “And it appears to have been there for quite some time.”

Filter socks, which can become contaminated with naturally occurring radiation, are banned for disposal in North Dakota. Oil companies are supposed to haul them to approved waste facilities in other states such as Montana, Colorado and Idaho, which allow a higher level of radioactivity in their landfills.

State regulators and law enforcement officials are investigating, Radig said. He said the filter socks found in Noonan have been tested, and show low levels of radioactivity.

“The public is not at risk as long as people don’t break into the building and start handling them,” Radig said.

Health officials say that since the state’s oil production has soared in the past several years, radioactive filter socks increasingly are being found along roadsides, in abandoned buildings or in commercial trash bins of an unsuspecting business – sometimes that of a competing oil company.

Divide County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Melby said there were “piles and piles” of filter socks scattered through a 4,000-square-foot building that once housed an auto shop.

“They’re piled up waist deep or higher,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff in there.”