Bags filled with proppant sand will undergo testing for radioactivity in Minot, ND, state officials said.
The reason for the testing is because 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 found ceramic proppant, as well as filter socks used in the process of preparing “frack sand” to pump into the ground, to be radioactive. Proppant is sized particles mixed with fracturing fluid that hold fractures open after a hydraulic fracturing treatment. In addition to naturally occurring sand grains, man-made or specially engineered proppants, such as resin-coated sand or high-strength ceramic materials like sintered bauxite, also see use.
The materials found have naturally occurring radioactive materials, but the quantities of the materials turning up in testing is far above the levels found in nature, officials said.
Those “hot” materials trace back to proppant originating in China, said Terry O’Clair, the director of the North Dakota Department of Health’s Air Quality Division.
Hundreds of bags of proppant material awaiting testing in downtown Minot, ND, 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.
O’Clair said they checked the Minot site 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. “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 Minot are marked “Made in China.”
O’Clair said the meter the Department of Health currently utilizes uses for testing is accurate only at temperatures above zero degrees. They took the meter to Williston last week, but couldn’t use it because of the subzero temperatures.
“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.”