White Earth Valley Fights Oil Waste Plant

The proposed waste site is toward the bottom of this photo, which looks west over the White Earth Valley. Photo by Terry Evans

By Laura Knudsen

Earlier this year, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved building an oil waste treatment plant near White Earth. Tervita Corporation, formerly CCS Midstream Inc., of Canada is seeking to build the plant at the top of the White Earth Valley. The plant would treat the waste water that oil drilling brings up and separate it into solid waste, saltwater and recoverable oil.

This is a 3D graphic of the solid waste landfill with a description of how waste is processed and contained. By Tervita.

Area residents are concerned for their valley and their way of life. The proposal still needs approval by the Mountrail Planning and Zoning Board, the County Commission, and then the North Dakota State Health Department.

The agricultural land, owned by Brian and Nancy Rice, will have to be rezoned before the company proceeds with plans to build on the site. The initial application submitted to the county’s zoning board last year was tabled due to incomplete information and a revised application has not been submitted.

“The board doesn’t have enough information at this time to make a decision on whether to rezone or not,” said Donald Longmuir, Mountrail County Zoning Administrator. “That would be provided by Tervita with the revised application.”

Several White Earth residents have written letters and made phone calls to county officials, the ND Industrial Commission and Tervita representatives attempting to preserve what some describe as a treasure of North Dakota.

Scott Davis, local beef cattle rancher whose land runs east adjacent to the site, said that he is concerned for the long term health of his children and grandchildren. Davis has two sons, Kevin and Matt Davis, and one daughter and son-in-law, Kevin and Sara Gieseke, living on his land.

He is also concerned that the processing of hazardous waste, which will be trucked in by Tervita’s customer companies, will damage air quality, leach into nearby creeks and the White Earth River, and influence his and his family’s livelihood.

“I know it will affect my living,” Davis said. “People have said they won’t buy beef from me being raised next to something like this. I don’t know if I could eat my own meat or sell it with a clear conscience.” The plant will consist of an engineered solid waste landfill, three saltwater wells for deep well disposal and a treatment, recovery and disposal processing facility, or TRD.

Tervita representative Susan Nelson said the plant will cover approximately 91 acres upon completion including the TRD facility. Their applications for the saltwater disposals have not been approved, and the company is waiting to proceed with any construction until all necessary permits are in place.

Nelson said the facility would receive approximately 10 trucks per hour during hours of operation and that all trucks will be required to have the necessary personal protection equipment.

“We will verify the matter they are bringing in from customer sites is approved,” Nelson said. “We believe safety belongs to all of us.”

The dust created by heavy traffic, potential for accidents and road conditions not meant for such activity are also a concern for White Earth residents.

Ceylon Feiring, area cattle rancher and doctor of veterinary medicine, said the dust is already affecting her cattle and covering her pastures.

“When I come home from Bismarck and look west, it’s a haze from all the dirt and what the gas fires are burning off,” Feiring said. “It’s just like driving into Hell.”

White Earth residents have met with the county zoning board and Tervita representatives.

Addressing concerns from the community, the company said it wants to continue an ongoing dialogue and to provide informative data in order that what Tervita does is understood.

“There are plans from the facility on Engineered Landfill Components dust control, and we are willing to find opportunities to mitigate those concerns,” Nelson said.

Randy Neset, closest resident to the plant and petroleum engineer with SHD Oil and Gas and Neset Consulting, said the community is most concerned about the solid waste landfill.

The landfill, described by Tervita as designed to eliminate adverse impacts on the environment, would be created in cells one at a time, rather than one large open disposal site. When a cell is full, it is capped with a proposed 3 ½ foot layer of either soil or clay depending on need, then reseeded as a new cell is created.

The Industrial Commission approved storage of 8,400 barrels total of oil waste and it required a $200,000 reclamation bond. It also has specific requirements regarding environmental protection and accident prevention which must be followed by Tervita, but says that issues of air quality, property values, traffic, road damage and safety are not under the commission’s jurisdiction.

However, the oil waste plant has met with strong opposition from the people who live in the scenic White Earth Valley community. The approval process for the plant still has a long way to go before decisions by the local governing bodies.

“(Tervita) explained that it’s perfectly safe and we explained that we don’t want it,” Scott Davis said. “We didn’t change their minds and they didn’t change ours.”

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