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Published January 25, 2013, 12:15 PM

2 oil companies pay total of $700K for illegal sewage dumping

FARGO – North Dakota environmental health regulators Friday announced that two firms have agreed to pay penalties totaling $700,000 for illegal sewage dumping in the Oil Patch.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – North Dakota environmental health regulators Friday announced that two firms have agreed to pay penalties totaling $700,000 for illegal sewage dumping in the Oil Patch.

Hurley Enterprises, of Fairfield, Mont., doing business as Hurley Oilfield Services, will pay $500,000 in penalties. MonDak Septic Service, with offices in Stanley, N.D., will pay $200,000 in penalties.

As part of the agreement, half of Hurley’s payment will involve providing septic tank pumper compliance training for truck drivers in the Oil Patch.

Drivers responsible for the violations also each will pay penalties of $1,500, according to environmental health officials.

Dennis Fewless, who heads the water quality division of the North Dakota Department of Health, said the steep fines are intended to send a message.

“Certainly that is part of it,” he said. “There were numerous violations.”

The violations occurred in fall 2011 until early 2012, he said.

The number of septic disposal firms – and the volume of waste they must dispose – has risen dramatically in recent years in the Oil Patch.

“It’s the most we’ve ever seen,” Fewless said. “The businesses have increased tremendously over the last two or three years.”

Most of the violations by the two firms involved improper disposal of septic tank contents from modular housing for crews at drilling rig sites, Fewless said.

Some of the violations involved dumping in ravines or coulees that drain into streams, creeks and stock ponds.

“We had cases where there was erosion gullies,” caused by multiple discharges involving several thousand gallons of waste, Fewless said.

No harm to fish or wildlife or waterways was documented, “although there certainly was the potential,” he said. “The practice was caught before it went any farther.”

Dave Gorham, a consultant who is working with Hurley, said the violations resulted because of a lack of sewage disposal lagoons, many of which closed when they became full. Cities don’t allow dumping because they are at capacity, he said.

“Let’s face it, somebody permitted all those wells,” and the associated problem of waste disposal should have been anticipated by officials, Gorham said. “The problem is one hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing.”

He added, “I don’t want to blame the state,” and said Hurley and MonDak are working with other companies to provide better disposal options.

North Dakota and many Western states allow septic disposal on farm fields under certain conditions. Hurley does not use that option, he said, and prefers to use lagoons.

A woman who answered the phone at MonDak’s office in Stanley said the company declined to comment on the violations.

MonDak has built regional domestic wastewater treatment lagoons that will help alleviate the need for field spreading, according to health officials.

Each company will be required to maintain detailed records of all domestic waste treatment and disposal activities.

The training program that Hurley will provide will be the first time such a course has been offered in North Dakota, Gorham said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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