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Oilfield waste spills concern landowners along Hwy 254 (slideshow)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

A spill last week from a truck headed to Oaks Disposal has once again raised concerns of some of those living along the route to the facility.

The spill occurred along Highway 254 on July 6, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The spill prompted some residents along the highway to contact DEQ with concerns about clean-up.

The spill came from a truck hauling drill cuttings to Oaks Disposal for burial. Drill cuttings are the finely-ground rock, earth and other material that come up out of the bore hole during the oil and gas drilling process.

According to DEQ Environmental Enforcement Specialist Shasta Steinweden, “Previous analytical results from spills show that (drill) cuttings have hydrocarbon contamination.” 

However, she said what was spilled on Highway 254 is not toxic and poses no immediate risk to people or the environment.

“It’s not a hazardous waste, it’s what’s classified as special waste,” Steinweden said. “(There is) no immediate danger. It is certainly waste that needs to cleaned up, but it’s not immediately toxic.”

“What we’ve been finding that occurs all too frequently is the truck will spill a fair amount of waste onto the road surface,” said Maggie Copeland, who lives along the highway. “The problem we’re having is no one is responsible for it.”

Copeland added that for residents, even knowing who to report the spills to has proven problematic, with answers ranging from DEQ to the district sanitarian to Disaster and Emergency Services, depending on the estimated size of the spill.

“Every time we ask these questions, somebody has a different answer,” she said. “There’s so many agencies involved that nobody can really coordinate it.”

As for the July 6 spill, MDT District 4 Administrator Shane Mintz said an MDT crew would work on cleaning it up this week. He said he did not expect the task to incur much time or cost.

“We really don’t expect that to take too much,” Mintz said. “I wouldn’t expect it to take us more than a couple of hours.”

He also described the spill as a “pretty small spot.”

Mintz does wish trucking companies hauling “soupy” loads of drill cuttings would take more precautions to prevent any of the material from sloshing out.

“Some of these soupier loads, it’d sure be nice to see them doing more than what they’re doing now,” he said.

Copeland would just like to see truck drivers and their employers be held to a higher standard of accountability, starting with reporting their spills. She said drivers are supposed to self-report when they spill, but usually don’t.

“It’s the responsibility of the truck driver an the company that truck driver’s employed with and they’re not self-reporting,” Copeland said. “We want these truck drivers to be more accountable. We’ve had enough.”

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

Get the full story in the Thursday, July 17, 2014 print issue of the Ranger-Review.
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