BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota environmental group said it plans to press lawmakers to strengthen the state’s proposed new oil production rules, which it believes should ban the dumping of oil drilling waste into open pits.
The regulations, which were approved by the state Industrial Commission last week, must still pass before the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee, which has the power to block, change or delay the implementation of new regulations.
Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo.
Donald Nelson, a Keene rancher and spokesman for the Dakota Resource Council, a Dickinson-based environmental group, said the new rules would continue allowing oil companies to dump liquid drilling waste in open pits if the well is less than 5,000 feet deep.
Nelson and Dorothy Ventsch, a council member from New Town, said open pits shouldn’t be used for waste disposal.
During last spring’s statewide flooding, Ventsch said, more than 40 pits overflowed with water from rain and melting snow, polluting nearby farmland and ranchland.
Nelson said the group would attempt to enlist sympathetic lawmakers to push to strengthen the regulations. He declined to name any prospects.
‘‘There’s several that we’ve worked with in the past, and I think they’ll get on board,’’ he said.
Supporters of the rules say they will require most wells to recycle liquid drilling waste instead of disposing of it in open pits. Furthermore, operators can’t use waste pits to dispose of liquids from wells deeper than 5,000 feet without special permission from state regulators.
State rules say the ‘‘reserve pits,’’ as they are called, must be filled in and reclaimed after oil drilling is finished at the site.
Nelson believes the rules also should require flow monitors on salt water disposal lines, which he said would provide for faster detection of leaks and help avoid catastrophic spills.
‘‘It’s not going to prevent spills. They’re still going to happen. But it will prevent such huge ones,’’ Nelson said. ‘‘If it’s just going to be a broken line that just keeps dumping out until they figure it out, a week or month down the road, I just don’t think that’s acceptable.’’
In January 2006, a saltwater disposal pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 1 million gallons of brine into Charbonneau Creek, near Alexander in northwestern North Dakota. The creek is a tributary of the Yellowstone River.
The line, owned by Zenergy Inc., of Tulsa, Okla., was not equipped with meters to monitor its flow and the spill was discovered by chance. Saltwater is a byproduct of oil production and is usually disposed of by injecting the water back underground.
Dave Glatt, chief of the state Department of Health’s environmental health section, said Monday that the spill was still being cleaned up.
A contractor hired by the company has been pumping out contaminated groundwater to prevent it from reaching the creek and other surface water sources, Glatt said.
Zenergy officials did not immediately respond to phone or email requests Monday seeking comment.