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Map Helps Westerns Find Out If They Live Near Oil And Gas Waste Sites


A new map commissioned by the Western Organization of Resource Councils allows people in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Colorado to see how close they live to oil and gas waste water spills and disposal facilities.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council's Megan Taylor said the map is helpful for Wyomingites worried how close they live to such sites since Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality hasn't done a study of where such oil and gas waste materials end up since the 80s and 90s. For that reason, Taylor said it's up to Wyoming citizens to educate themselves to make sure they aren't exposed to radioactive materials by living near municipal landfills where technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials—known as TENORM's--may end up getting dumped.

“We don't know really what landfills are taking this waste and which ones aren't,” Taylor said. “And the DEQ does not keep a comprehensive list of what landfills are currently accepting TENORM waste. And the DEQ doesn't know what kind of TENORM waste may be going into those landfills and what the volumes may be.”

The Western Organization of Resource Councils commissioned the maps because of a rise in illegal dumping of oil and gas waste water in North Dakota. Taylor said Wyoming doesn’t regulate waste water disposal enough either. She said she’s heard of cases of illegal dumping in Wyoming landfills too.

“Some landfills don’t have handheld Geiger counters,” said Taylor. “Most of our landfills don’t have radiation detectors on the scale houses. And so you can kind of bury that TENORM waste into the middle of a load and get it through.”

According to the new map, most of Wyoming's waste water disposal facilities and wells are located in the Powder River Basin area with a few others located near the Green River Valley and the Red Desert. To see the companion study, "No Time To Waste," conducted by the Western Organization of Resource Councils, click here.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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