County right on radiation concerns

This week, the Ward County Commission decided some additional testing was warranted of oil-field brine that the county wants to use on certain roads for dust control. At question: could such brine contain radiation?

The question was brought forward by a handful of residents and the county commission rightly listened and is now engaged in the inquiry.

The commission had voted July 3 to approve a request from the county highway department to purchase a fiberglass storage tank and distribution equipment for a program using produced water from a Renville County oil well in the Madison Formation to control dust on gravel roads heavily used by county trucks, such as in hauling gravel.

The Ward County Highway Department wants to try oil-field brine as a cost-saving measure. Assistant county engineer Travis Schmit said the county could obtain the brine at no cost but would be responsible for its transportation.

Already data demonstrates that oil-field brine is low risk for metals and gases (well brine must be tested and permitted by the North Dakota Health Department as environmentally safe for use on roads. The test measures hydrogen sulfide and heavy metals, for instance), but radiation testing has not apparently been standard.

Should radiation exist, it would be a concern once the product dries because radioactive particles could become airborne.

“The question is about the radiation. That’s what the biggest concern is,” Commission Chairman Alan Walter said. “I think we need answers.”

The county and appropriate state bureaus are now on the job of making this determination.

In terms of public safety and public confidence, this is a wise move on behalf of the county.