CO landfills could contain low-level radioactive waste from oil and gas operators

Posted at 5:02 PM, Sep 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-22 21:13:15-04

DENVER -- As more people find themselves living near oil and gas wells, Colorado landfills have been illegally burying naturally occurring low-level radioactive waste from the oil and gas industry. 

The state health department is now trying to get a handle on where the waste is going, and whether it's reaching high enough levels to warrant concern. 

The Denver Post first reported these findings from state health officials.

Martha Rudolph, the director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said there is no evidence of any imminent public health threat. 

However, public health leaders are still trying to determine the risk. 

"We're finding out that these oil and gas materials may contain levels of TENORM that are high enough that we need to dispose of them in appropriate landfills," said Rudolph.

Currently, CDPHE only has a policy for how operators must dispose of naturally occurring low-level radioactive waste, but no authority to enforce it. 

"Policy is not enforceable," said Rudolph. "If it's a regulation it would give us more teeth." 

Rudolph said there are two conflicting state laws that prevent CDPHE from regulating the disposal. Something the health department is considering seeking legislation to fix. 

"What we're looking to achieve is an across the board everything knows what the rules are. Here's what you have to do to build and operate a landfill that can take these wastes," explained Rudolph. 

Before they get to that point, CDPHE said it is working with the industry to find out how high the levels really are. 

"Some we suspect likely contain more higher levels of TENORM than others, but we just simply don't know at this point," said Rudolph. 

The COGCC, which regulates the industry, said it would support state legislative changes that would enable CDPHE to more effectively dispose of this waste. 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association also said it would support regulator changes.  

“Current oil and gas disposal operations and standards have been approved by Colorado regulatory oversight agencies. COGA is not aware of any illegal activity, and we support state regulations for waste disposal of all types. While circumstances may be different in other states, we are not aware of any wastes containing TENORM at elevated levels being disposed of at any facility in Colorado. We have spoken with the state, with members of the waste industry, and others to begin exploring this further." Dan Haley, President and CEO, Colorado Oil and Gas Association said in a statement. 

Read more from the Denver Post.