KILLDEER, N.D. – An oilfield waste treating plant north of Killdeer with a history of not complying with state rules must close after state regulators denied the facility a permit this week.
Renewable Resources also will be required to properly dispose of a stockpile of oilfield waste that was recently estimated to be nearly four times the amount the facility was allowed to store, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.
The health department first granted a permit in 2012 to Renewable Resources of Killdeer, which processes oil-contaminated waste and drill cuttings, a byproduct of oil production that contains hydrocarbons and has a high salt content.
Recent changes in state regulations required Renewable Resources to get a treating plant permit from the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
But commissioners unanimously denied the permit this week because the facility sits on top of the Killdeer Aquifer in a geologically and hydrologically sensitive area, said Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources.
“We would not have sited that location in the first place,” Ritter said.
Commissioners also pointed to the facility’s “pattern of failing to comply with rules, permit conditions and directives of a regulatory agency,” referencing health department violations that date back to 2013.
But Shawn Kluver, CEO of Renewable Resources, disputes that his business was out of compliance with the health department and said tests by an independent third party show that the Killdeer Aquifer has not been contaminated.
“We’ve done everything possible to always protect the aquifer,” Kluver said. “We’ve made a huge investment to protect it.”
Community members grew concerned about the facility after an explosion in the building in February raised awareness of how much waste was stored there, said JoAnn Marsh, a member of a Dunn County Concerned Citizens group that monitors issues related to oilfield waste. The fire occurred when a worker was welding a tank.
“The concern became we had volunteer firemen go out there to that explosion and not really knowing what type of material they had in there,” said Marsh, who is running for Dunn County Commission.
Scott Radig, director of the health department’s Division of Waste Management, which has been inspecting the facility weekly since May, said the volume of solid waste stored inside of two buildings was estimated in June to be 13,983 cubic yards — enough to fill four Olympic-sized swimming pools.
“It’s extremely large piles in those buildings, almost to the ceiling,” Radig said.
Although that amount has been reduced somewhat, it’s still significantly greater than the 3,500 cubic yards the facility was permitted to store, Radig said.
The company’s business plan was to accept drill cuttings and other oilfield waste and treat it with a thermal heating unit to produce a reusable material.
Renewable Resources was producing a substitute for fly ash, which is used to stabilize drill cuttings before disposal. The company also was working on a pilot project to turn drill cuttings into a usable road base material.
Renewable Resources was required to treat waste and store it no longer than 30 days. But the volume of waste kept building up with little going out, Radig said.
“The market for his product that he’s making just doesn’t seem to be there,” Radig said. “Without having a market for it, he’s just going to keep bringing waste in without having any go out.”
The waste handling permit with the health department is expired and the agency had given Renewable Resources a deadline of Saturday, Oct. 1, to dispose of that waste and close the facility.
The business held off on meeting that requirement because “they had been hanging their hat on obtaining the Industrial Commission permit,” Radig said.
“But now that the Industrial Commission has denied the permit, there really aren’t any other options there,” Radig said. “We will be expecting a pretty aggressive cleanup plan for cleaning out the waste.”
In addition to the solid waste, the facility also has liquid waste stored in tanks that will need to be removed, Radig said.
Kluver said the volume of waste is being reduced and hauled to two approved landfills.
“We’re moving waste daily out of there now and are going to continue to,” he said.
Renewable Resources has 30 days to petition the Industrial Commission to reconsider its permit application. Kluver said he hadn’t decided what his next step will be. The business employs nearly 50 people, he said.
The health department first issued a notice of violation to Renewable Resources in January 2014, citing concerns about stockpiles of waste that were stored outdoors, in violation of the permit, and unreported spills observed by inspectors, documents show.
The business paid an $18,000 fine with $330,000 suspended as part of an administrative consent agreement that required several conditions.
Radig said the company met some of the conditions, including moving the waste indoors, but failed to meet others.
In 2016, the health department issued another notice alleging more violations, including accepting waste in July without a solid waste management permit, documents show.
“It has taken a lot of staff time working with Renewable Resources to try to get them into compliance,” Radig said. “They just never seem to be able to do that. We’re really forced by the terms of the solid waste rules and the permit to close the facility.”
Kluver said the concerns raised by the health department were “minor issues” and the business worked to meet the conditions.
“We did the best we could,” Kluver said. “We’ve always cooperated with the regulators and we’ve always complied with anything they’ve asked us to do. We’re not understanding the whole situation.”
The health department required monitoring wells due to the concerns about the aquifer, Radig said. One well showed a slightly elevated level of chloride this spring, he said.
“It’s not above any health standards or anything, but it did show a slight increase, so we’re watching to see if that continues,” he said.
Marsh said she’s glad the Industrial Commission denied the permit, but she questions how well the cleanup will be enforced and monitored.
“Who’s going to oversee the cleanup? And who’s going to make sure it’s going to the right landfills? There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Marsh said.
Radig said the company will be required to submit a plan next week for closure. The health department also plans to monitor that the waste is disposed of at an approved special waste landfill by checking with both the company’s records and the landfills’ records, Radig said.
Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section, said the health department may consider additional fines for Renewable Resources.
“Our primary goal right now is to make sure the site is appropriately decommissioned,” Glatt said.