Cleanup stops at hazardous material site

Employees of Shale Oilfield Services put a filter sock in a trash bag before the cleanup was halted last week. Shale Oilfield Services photo

Employees of Shale Oilfield Services put a filter sock in a trash bag before the cleanup was halted last week. Shale Oilfield Services photo

Despite an earlier extensive cleanup, the discovery of more radioactive oil field waste at a site in Noonan has brought cleanup to a halt.

“They took out 12 buckets of contaminated soil, and five large garbage bags of filter socks,” Divide County Emergency Management Director Jody Gunlock told country commissioners last week.

“But they found even more.”

Workers from Shale Oilfield Services in Williston, contracted by the state Health Department to remove illegally dumped radioactive filter socks in the former gas station have been crawling underneath the office portion of the dilapidated building.

“The more they dig, the more they find,” said Gunlock, who has been communicating with Lewis Vigen from Shale Oilfield Services.

“There’s no power down there, so they can’t see anything, and it’s getting to the point where it’s unsafe to go down there.”

Plans were for the Shale employees to remove the filter socks and contaminated dirt from the site, then any asbestos would be abated before county road department employees demolished the building and hauled the scrap to the Noonan landfill.

Now, Gunlock said, it appears the safest course of action is to demolish the building before finishing the clean up.

Vigen’s report to the Health Department, submitted after the commission meeting, says the same thing.

But, Gunlock told commissioners, that scenario poses its own set of problems.

“They (county employees) don’t have PPEs (personal protective equipment), said Gunlock. “And there’s the chance of the equipment becoming contaminated.”

According to information Gunlock relayed to commissioners from Vigen, additional soil testing shows more than 12 times the base amount of radiation allowed in a landfill not certified for hazardous waste.

Soils removed by Shale were hauled to a facility near Lindsay, Montana.

Under the terms of a federal Brownfields grant, the Health Department was paying for the cleanup of the radioactive materials while Divide County is responsible for asbestos removal and demolition.

“I think we need to send a letter to Brownfields outlining the issues,” County Commissioner Doug Graupe said. “Tell them we’re looking for some money because we’re concerned about the safety of our employees that are doing the work.”

Gunlock said now that he has a copy of Vigen’s report, he and State’s Attorney Seymour Jordan will notify Brownfields, inquiring about the possibility of additional funding.

The site had a state-funded cleanup done in 2014 by Secure Energy Services in which one and a third roll-off dumpsters — 60 cubic yards — of filter socks and dirt were removed from the site.

Divide County received the building back in a 2016 tax forfeiture.

Originally discovered in 2014, the filter socks, used in drilling and oil well development, were allegedly dumped, rather than properly disposed of by Kenneth James Ward. Ward was indicted in 2017 by a federal court in Montana, and declared a fugitive by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was arrested last May on unrelated charges, and is currently in federal custody.

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