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Abandoned, radioactive proppant from fracking spreading into Little Muddy River

KXMA Bismarck logo KXMA Bismarck 5/26/2022 Kyara Brown
Abandoned, radioactive proppant from fracking spreading into Little Muddy River © Provided by KXMA Bismarck Abandoned, radioactive proppant from fracking spreading into Little Muddy River

Since fracking made oil deposits more accessible, it’s no secret that some environmental damage could lie ahead.

KX News journeyed to a warehouse in Williston where large amounts of the radioactive material have been abandoned.

North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality has acted against Sea Pacific International Trading Company for the cleanup of the company’s dangerous fracking proppant bags.

Fracking proppant is a solid material, typically sand-like, that is man-made and designed to keep hydraulic fractures open, allowing for the extraction of oil.

The many bags of hydraulic fracking proppant have been sitting outside for over three years.

The bags have started to deteriorate and as a result, the radioactive proppant material has spread across the area, which is near a local river.

The state was notified in 2019 of the abandonment and they determined that a cleanup plan could cost over $20 million.

“What happens is, it causes your cost to exponentially increase by getting a radioactive level back. Because, North Dakota, 5 picocuries per gram, that’s the legal limit,” said Kelly Harrelson, an environmental clean-up expert.

The proppant at this location in Williston was bought from China.

The company that bought the material suspected that it exceeded the regulated radioactivity levels, and tested it.

Harrelson says that especially with the levels of radioactivity coming from the site, the material must be cleaned up as soon as possible.

“If it’s not going to be utilized in the fracking process, it needs to get up off the ground. You know, if that were saltwater, would have to clean it up in a hurry, right? Or if that was oil…that should be no different,” said Harrelson.

The many broken, open bags of the proppant have allowed the material to make its way to the mouth of a local river called Little Muddy.

Little Muddy is a popular river in Williston, where many swim and fish, but it also runs into the Missouri River.

Although the proppant itself doesn’t present an immediate danger to the public, Harrelson says that long term, there is no telling what the repercussions could be.

“You have a lot of water that runs through there. You also have the tributary that is running right next to that location. That material could very easily wash into that local tributary which could very easily move into our local rivers,” said Harrelson.

Because of its high radioactive level, the proppant cannot be disposed of in North Dakota and would have to be taken to Montana or Colorado, to do so.

Leaving the proppant where it’s at could make the location permanently radioactive.

Harrelson says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could get involved and could deem this site as a super fund project — but there is still no plan in place to either dispose of the hazardous material or mitigate the problem at the site.

There has been some activity of clean-up around the site over the past six months, but it has come to halt once again.

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