Meanwhile, Dakota Access LLC announces that every South Dakota landowner along the route of its proposed Bakken oil pipeline has signed an easement to allow the project to proceed:
Six months after the project was approved by the Public Utilities Commission, Dakota Access LLC has inked its last voluntary easements with landowners along the 272 miles of South Dakota land it needs to build its underground pipeline.
The company announced this week that 100 percent of the landowners in both North and South Dakota had signed easements without a legal fight. In Illinois, the voluntary easement figure is 98 percent. In Iowa, it’s 87 percent [John Hult, “Dakota Access Gets 100 Percent Compliance in South Dakota,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.05.11].
We should put “voluntary” in mock quotes:
The 100 percent figure in South Dakota means landowners Peggy Hoogestraat, who marched against Dakota Access and was sued by the company before the Public Utilities Commission hearing on the matter even began, have agreed to let the pipeline cross their property.
The vast majority of easements were signed long before the PUC hearing, but there were plenty of holdouts who’d hoped to see the project shot down.
Hoogestraat said Wednesday that she hadn’t yet heard the news about easements, but she said she understands how it happened. Even the project’s most vociferous opponents knew that PUC approval would leave them with little recourse but to sign voluntary easements or risk an expensive legal battle.
“Financially, I couldn’t afford to fight the big pipeline company,” Hoogestraat said [Hult, 2016.05.11].
The Department of Energy and Battelle Memorial Institute want to drill two holes, one 8.5 inches across, the second 17 inches across, both 3.1 miles deep, do some scientific tests, then fill them back up with clay and cement. The DOE/Battelle contract (now available online, thanks to Donald Pay’s diligent work!) says no radioactive waste may be dumped in these two holes (see p. 6 and p. 32). From every public indication, the Department of Energy has said it will use consent-based siting: if the community opposes having the Deep Borehole Field Test in its backyard, DOE will tell Battelle to take the project elsewhere. No one in the project has said anything about using emeinent domain to force anyone to surrender land for the Borehole project. Yet the suspicion that everyone involved with the project is lying and that the government plans to throw nuclear waste down those holes once they are drilled as led to widespread and vocal opposition to the project.
Dakota Access plans to run a 30-inch pipeline under 272 miles of South Dakota’s best farmland, including Spink County. They will place a pumping station seven miles south of Redfield. They have secured easements from landowners by threatening them with eminent domain. The Dakota Access pipeline will imperil our farmland and groundwater with 450,000 to 570,000 barrels of toxic material every day. The Spink County Commission and numerous landowners have pretty much shrugged. Public meetings in Bowdle, Redfield, and Iroquois in January 2015 brought little adamant opposition and more questions about safety procedures and when landowners would get paid.
South Dakota landowners are being inconvenienced by an oil pipeline leak right now. The environmental risk of the Dakota Access oil pipeline as proposed is real, significant, and greater than the potential environmental risk of the Deep Borehole Field Test not as proposed but only as imaginable if we discount numerous public statements from project officials, laws, and federal regulations.
I will not go as far as to condemn opposition to the Deep Borehole Field Test. But I will say that if your dander is up about digging two skinny science holes in the Spink County bedrock, you should be freaking out over an oil company strong-arming South Dakotans into surrendering their land for an oil pipeline.
On November 25, 2014, one month after the Department of Energy posted the Deep Borehole Field Test request for bids (DE-SOL-0007705), Governor Daugaard sent the following letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz:
The final paragraph is the key policy statement:
My support for the field test is predicated on the understanding that no nuclear material beyond conventional geophysical tools will be used in the conduct of these investigations and that our interest does not imply the state of South Dakota will accept nuclear waste. Any decision pertaining to storage of spent nuclear fuel must be based on results of rigorous scientific study and a favorable public vote by South Dakota citizens [Governor Dennis Daugaard, letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, 2014.11.25].
To hold to his word on that public vote, Governor Daugaard might want to prepare a constitutional amendment to restore the automatic referendum power over nuclear waste that South Dakotans created for themselves in 1984 and exercised to stop a multi-state nuclear-waste compact in 1985. The Legislature repealed that power in 1987.
Secretary Moniz acknowledged Governor Daugaard’s condition support for the Borehole project in a letter three months later:
I have previously supported deep underground research at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead and in shale formations by the South Dakota School of Mines. I support the Deep Borehole project in South Dakota because it furthers our state’s leadership in underground research with no potential for that location to be used to store nuclear waste. South Dakota is a recognized worldwide leader in this area, and I’m proud our state has the potential to continue this legacy of scientific innovation [Governor Dennis Daugaard, message read by Rod Osborne, Battelle, public meeting, Redfield, South Dakota, 2016.04.28].
These are the statements for which South Dakotans can hold Governor Daugaard accountable as we discuss whether or not to permit the Deep Borehole Field Test to take place in Spink County.
One of my apparently wealthy and well-briefed readers notes that RadWaste has been covering the Deep Borehole Field Test proposed for Spink County. An article published Friday by Karl Herchenroeder says that project contractor Battelle Memorial Institute, a science and technology development company based in Ohio, will include in its variance request to Spink County “a stipulation that the boreholes will be permanently sealed when the project is completed.” This stipulation responds to concerns expressed at public meetings two weeks ago that the holes drilled for this test might be used for disposal of nuclear waste. Battelle spokesman T.R. Massey tells Herchenroeder that requiring permanent sealing of the holes adds to the assurance of “public refusal, the proximity of an aquifer, state law, the lack of federal disposal framework and siting on private land” that placing nuclear waste in Spink County “can never happen.”
Citizens don’t have to gut this month’s paycheck to read that assurance; they can attend Battelle’s next public information meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at the Spink County Fairgrounds 4-H building, same site as the previous meeting:
The cast of characters will be mostly the same, with one important exception: instead of representatives from the School Mines, this meeting will feature someone from Governor Dennis Daugaard’s office. Folks at the last meeting groused at the absence of the Governor himself from a meeting this important, feeling the written statement from the Governor read at the meeting was not enough assurance that the Governor supported the project on the condition that it not involve nuclear materials. Wednesday will give Spink County residents the chance to look someone from Pierre in the eye and hear that assurance.
More than 120 people attended a public meeting at the Spink County 4-H building in Redfield last night to hear experts from Battelle, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and the United States Department of Energy discuss the Deep Borehole Field Test. The same experts held a similar informational meeting Wednesday evening in Tulare. Here’s the core of the company and government lines on why the Borehole will bring good science and no nuclear waste to South Dakota.
The gentlemen (I didn’t notice any ladies on the team) opened with a 30-minute presentation, beginning with Rodney Osborne, Battelle’s energy business line manager, followed by comments from Dr. Larry Stetler, professor of geology at Mines; and Andy Griffith, associate deputy assistant secretary for fuel cycle technologies in the Office of Nuclear Energy. The mostly inaudible dude at 13:30 is Jay Nopola of Rapid City-based consulting firm RESPEC.
The biggest concern Osborne tackled was the fear that the Deep Borehole Field Test opens the door to nuclear waste in South Dakota. Osborne said no way:
This project what it’s not is a nuclear waste disposal project. No nuclear waste involved in the project, no nuclear waste after the project. This is a science project only. The data that are gathered as part of this project will be used in many, many projects going forward over the next decade or more to understand this technology. So this isn’t a preparation for storing nuclear waste or disposing of nuclear waste in Spink County or anywhere else. It’s just developing the science and the understanding.
So why wouldn’t we put nuclear waste in Spink County? It’s not the right place. There’s an aquifer right above the granite where we’re looking to drill. That doesn’t make it good for nuclear waste disposal. That gets in the way of storing nuclear waste. What it does not get in the way of is us doing our test.
So why Spink County? Why do it? It’s the geology. Simply put, it’s the geology. Underneath Spink County is a very stable formation, more than two billion years old, that hasn’t been disturbed by volcanoes, hasn’t been disturbed by seismic, by earthquake, hasn’t been disturbed by anything else, so it’s very stable. It’s not broken up, so it’s a great place to drill [Rodney Osborne, public meeting on Deep Borehole Field Test, Redfield, South Dakota, 2016.04.28].
Osborne read what he said is a new statement from Governor Dennis Daugaard expressing support for the Borehole project, on the clear condition that the Energy Department holds to that promise not to bring nuclear waste to the field test site (yes, Osborne mispronounced Daugaard… but then so did one of the audience members who spoke in opposition to the project):
I have previously supported deep underground research at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead and shale formations by the South Dakota School of Mines…. I support the Deep Borehole project in South Dakota because it furthers our state’s leadership in underground with no potential for that location to be used to store or dispose of nuclear waste. South Dakota is a recognized world leader in this underground research area, and I’m proud of our state and the opportunity it has for the potential to continue this legacy of scientific innovation [statement attributed to Governor Dennis Daugaard, read by Rodney Osborne, public meeting on DBFT, Redfield, SD, 2016.04.28].
Osborne acknowledged the mistrust he heard at the Tulare meeting of the promise that this Borehole project will not bring any nuclear waste to South Dakota. He said Spink County residents have lots of barriers between them and any conversion of this science project into a nuclear waste dump. South Dakota law requires the approval of the Governor for any nuclear waste disposal in our state (see SDCL 34-21.1.1). Battelle has to find a landowner willing to sign the five-year lease for the project—there is no talk of eminent domain. (Osborne said Battelle is talking with private landowners to host the project. Battelle declines to identify the landowners or specific sites.) Battelle also has to get zoning approval from the Spink County Commission. (Battelle will speak with the Spink County Commission next week Tuesday, on May 3.) Osborne and Griffith emphasized at many points that the project will not go forward without local support.
Griffith emphasized that the Energy Department has abandoned the top-down siting policy that he says led to the failure of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site and is following a consent-based system. Griffith and Osborne both said that if the locals don’t want the Deep Borehole Field Test, not to mention future nuclear waste sites, the project will not happen there.
After the meeting, Griffith explained to Dakota Free Press another sign that his department and Battelle are not envisioning the Spink County Borehole site as a nuclear waste disposal site. In January 2016, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board recommended several changes to the Deep Borehole Field Test, including the digging of multiple boreholes to provide better characterization of the rock. Griffith said that recommendation makes sense for testing a site for actual waste disposal. But Griffith says the Deep Borehole Field Test will dig only one, maybe two holes, just to test the technology. If DOE had any inkling of sinking nuclear waste in Spink County, they’d have Battelle punch all sorts of wholes in the test site.
But that’s not in the plan. Battelle will spend six to eight months drilling the hole, then eight to ten months testing it. The remainder of the five-year lease is a window for further science, but not the pre-drilling of a waste disposal complex. Battelle’s contract allows the drilling of a second hole, but at the end of the project, all drilling will be refilled to the brim with cement and clay layers. The contract includes an option for the state to request to use the site for further scientific research, but only with the consent of all stakeholders, including the Energy Department, which would have to approve the transfer of this federal asset to the local community.
That January 2016 NWTRB report notes that the United Kingdom and Sweden have investigated borehole disposal but decided to stick with mined geologic disposal sites à la Yucca Mountain. Griffith told Dakota Free Press that while Sweden is sticking with mined geological disposal, the U.K. is very interested in USDOE’s proposed research. Griffith says that borehole disposal may be more viable now than when the British reviewed it thanks to advances in drilling and sealing technology brought to us by the oil and gas industry.
If the Deep Borehole Field Test succeeds, existing federal regulations still don’t allow dumping nuclear waste in really deep holes. Part of the point of the Deep Borehole Field Test is to gather the data necessary to inform the regulations that the Energy Department would have to compose for borehole waste sites. The more data we gather here and in future experiments, the safer we can make those future regulations.
Griffith says the borehole concept, if proven viable by this initial research, and if authorized and regulated by the federal government, will not take care of all of America’s nuclear waste:
Our nation is facing a major challenge in finding a solution for disposing nuclear waste, high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel. This project isn’t going dispose of all of that waste that has been generated, or this concept, this technology. But what it might do is it might offer a solution for some small inventories of high-level waste that was produced from the Defense program, those programs that established our strategic stockpiles and essentially helped us win the Cold War. This material is a fairly small portion of the inventory, but if this concept is proven to be successful, there may be a community out there that would be willing to host a disposal facility. But they could only host that disposal facility if the information shows that this concept is feasible, that it could work. And so we’re here to test that theory that it could work in a non-radioactive manner [Andy Griffith, USDOE, Redfield meeting, 2016.04.28].
T.R. Massey, former journalist turned media relations specialist for Battelle, underscored the point that borehole research isn’t about burying nuclear waste from power generation. Borehole disposal, says Massey, is about finally disposing of the fission by-products of nuclear weapons development all the way back to Oppenheimer.Massey says his borehole research gives the United States an opportunity to lead the world in solving one critical portion of the nuclear waste problem at significantly less cost than the billions poured into Yucca Mountain, which President Obama shut down in 2011 before it could store any nuclear waste.
Massey underscored what Osborne and Griffith said about public buy-in: positive public perception and welcome is vital to the Deep Borehole Field Test. Toward that end, Battelle plans to hold more meetings in Spink County to “look people in the eye and tell them the truth. He says the people of Spink County, not Battelle, will ultimately decide whether to press the “Go” button. Massey says Spink County has “great” geology for the Borehole, but if locals don’t welcome the project, Battelle has other sites available.
Massey wouldn’t name those other sites, and as noted above, Battelle won’t name the Spink County landowners with whom they are talking. Aside from that reticence, Massey said Battelle plans to be “completely transparent,” “open” and “truthful” with the public.
Such were the company and government lines presented to the Redfield crowd last night. In an upcoming post today, I’ll discuss how those lines went over. (Hint: think atomic number 82… and EB-5!)
Battelle Memorial Institute, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and the U.S. Department of Energy are hosting an informational meeting about the Deep Borehole Field Test in Tulare tonight. I’m planning to attend their roadshow at the Spink County Fairgrounds 4-H building in Redfield tomorrow night starting at 6 p.m.
I’ll ask the experts at tomorrow night’s meeting to confirm their intentions for our good ground. Readers, if you have questions, come to Redfield and ask them tomorrow night… or submit them in the comment section below!
The DBFT is intended to test the feasibility of digging holes more than three miles deep to dispose of nuclear waste. However, Battelle says no nuclear waste will come to Spink County, even if they do punch a big deep hole into our bedrock, since the Dakota Aquifer is too darn close for regulatory comfort.
Here’s Battelle’s press release in full:
Battelle, South Dakota School of Mines to Hold Open House Meetings in Tulare and Redfield
SPINK COUNTY, South Dakota – Battelle and a team that features the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines) and Rapid City-based RESPEC is considering sites in Spink County, South Dakota for scientific experiments in crystalline granite rock formations as deep as 3.2 miles below ground.
A final decision has yet to be made on whether the rock formations in this area are suitable for this Deep Borehole Field Test (DBFT), but Battelle and SD Mines will hold at least two open house meetings in Spink County to answer questions from the local community about this research.
The DBFT would continue the theme of South Dakota’s long history of pioneering underground research, such as the work being done at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), in Lead, SD, that explores dark matter and the early origins of the universe. The SD Mines also continues its work on the state-funded Shale Research Initiative. Similar to the work in Lead, the DBFT is funded by the United States Department of Energy (DOE).
The Field Test is intended to increase scientific understanding of the potential uses for crystalline rock formations. This includes the potential for disposal of certain types of radioactive waste, but also includes the potential for geothermal energy development. It is important to note that no radioactive waste will be used in this project.
The project also benefits South Dakota and Spink County, where it is projected to have a five- year, $1 million local economic impact and $10 million in the state.
While the rock (the Benson Block) seems to be ideal for scientific study, it will not be considered as a potential disposal site for radioactive waste. Due to the proximity of subsurface water (the Dakota aquifer) in the area, nothing beyond geological research can be done as part of this project. Regulatory standards for nuclear waste disposal are extremely demanding, and due to the close proximity of water to the granite, this site is not expected to meet those performance standards. The DOE has no plans to use the field test site for the disposal of radioactive waste. Additionally, it would be performed on private land where the owners do not wish to host a waste disposal site.
If scientists from SD Mines and Battelle determine that Spink County is suitable for geological study, the DBFT would investigate the type of rocks, the chemistry of the water, the depths of these rocks and water and the temperature deep underground. It will also provide a unique opportunity to gather other deep local geologic data and may have follow-on potential for geothermal research.
The project could last as long as five years, with drilling of the characterization hole taking six to eight months. After drilling, a series of tests will be done inside of the borehole that will last approximately another six months. After these tests are studied, a second deep borehole could be drilled to conduct further testing of the engineering and scientific characteristics of deep boreholes. Neither of these tests will involve radioactive material.
Spink County is one of several sites around the country that are currently under consideration for this research.
Details on the planned open house meetings are included below.
Open house meetings to share information on the Deep Borehole Field Test, to be done by Battelle and the South Dakota School of Mines
Tulare High School gymnasium, 401 4th Street, Tulare, SD 57476
Spink County Fairgrounds 4-H building, 38497 174th St., Redfield, SD 57469
Representatives from South Dakota School of Mines, RESPEC, Schlumberger, Battelle and the U.S. Department of Energy
April 27 Tulare High School 6-9 p.m.
April 28 Spink County/Redfield 4H building 6-9 p.m.
SDSU physics professor and coordinator of nuclear education (I like that job title!) Dr. Robert McTaggart is disappointed that our friends up in North Dakota nuked the Deep Borehole Field Test that would have studied the feasibility of sealing nuclear waste in three-mile-deep holes. He says nuclear power is good, and we need to do science to figure out what to do with nuclear waste:
Trying to halt nuclear energy altogether by opposing any kind of nuclear waste storage is misguided. It completely ignores the security issues and on-going costs of storing waste that has already been produced. Also, there would be the cost of replacing nuclear power with other carbon-free energy sources, and the cost of losing the most reliable form of baseload power we have to stabilize the electric grid.
…Until now we have gladly accepted the many benefits of nuclear technology, while kicking the can down the road with respect to our nuclear waste responsibilities. To store the waste that we have already produced, and to facilitate the generation of new clean energy, we must establish a robust process for disposing of our nuclear waste. This will not be possible without sound science and the consent of state and local governments [Dr. Robert McTaggart, “Address Concerns Re: Nuclear Waste Disposal,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.04.12].
Bill Wicker, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, tells me that DOE is sticking with Battelle Memorial Institute, the organization that won DOE’s contract to conduct the Deep Borehole Field Test. Battelle spokesman T. R. Massey says Battelle is “examining several potential places around the country in concurrent fashion” as alternative sites for the DBFT but says “it would be imprudent to divulge the locations of those sites until we know more about each.” Wicker says DOE is not directing or recommending Battelle’s site selection process but will work with Battelle to ensure that whatever site it chooses is acceptable.
A source tells me that international engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff bid for the DBFT with a South Dakota site in mind. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology was one of the partners in the Parsons Brinckerhoff proposal. I contacted the School of Mines hoping to review that proposal, but Mines spokesperson Fran LeFort replied, “Proposals belong to the investigators who write the proposals and the university cannot release them.” Parsons Brinckerhoff has not yet replied to this blog’s request for comment.
Dr. McTaggart has called the proposed Powertech-Azarga in situ uranium mine in the Southern Black Hills a “prudent” step in “reducing our dependence on imported uranium from countries in the former Soviet Union and moving toward cleaner energy.
Mr. Pay alerts us to the sinking of the borehole nuclear waste disposal test project in North Dakota and the possibility that South Dakota might get a second look for hosting this engineering endeavor.
In January, the feds chose Rugby, North Dakota, as the site of their five-year, $35-million project to test the feasibility of drilling a 16,000-foot-deep hole and burying nuclear waste at the bottom.
When the Pierce County Commission held a public information session on the project in February, about 300 people showed up to ask about the engineering, the economic and environmental impacts, and, perhaps most importantly, the possibility that, once drilled, the borehole would become an actual nuclear waste dump. A neighboring county commissioner said many folks in the area believe if the test succeeded, the feds wouldn’t let a big usable hole go to waste (maybe I should rephrase that?) and Rugby would indeed become a nuclear waste dump. After receiving a petition with 2,000 signatures opposing the project, the Pierce County Commission voted March 8 not to allow the borehole in their turf.
So where do the feds turn now? As Mr. Pay helped report last October, South Dakota was one of three good borehole locations listed in a 2014 paper prepared by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy. An article in Science yesterday says Ohio-based nonprofit research firm Battelle Memorial Institute still wants to start drilling somewhere this year. Says Science, “Programs in Texas, South Dakota, and South Carolina had submitted bids before North Dakota was initially chosen, an EERC official told the audience in Pierce County.”
Even if you don’t like nuclear power, we’ve got seventy years’ worth of nuclear waste sitting around and no permanent place in the U.S. to put it. Rugby said no to testing one disposal method; should South Dakota follow their lead?
Northeastern South Dakota satisfies many of those criteria. Sandia National Labs agrees: Sandia selected and evaluated three areas as representative locations for the Deep Borehole Field Test: the Texas Panhandle, southern South Carolina, and northeastern South Dakota. Here’s some of what a September 2014 report from Sandia said about the South Dakota site:
Much of South Dakota exhibits characteristics that are potentially favorable for the deep borehole field test, based on the siting guidelines identified in DOE (2013). Depth to crystalline basement rocks is less than 2,000 m with the exception of the northwestern corner of the state (see Figure 2-3), which lies on the southern edge of the Williston Basin. Except for the Black Hills in the southwestern part of South Dakota, topographic relief is generally low, which would tend to limit deep circulation of meteoric groundwater. Seismic risk is low (see Figure 2-2) and Quaternary age volcanism and faulting are absent in the state. Although structural complexity exists in the Precambrian basement, these features are geologically old and major features such as the Midcontinent Rift system are absent. A significant positive geothermal anomaly is present in the south-central part of the state (see Figure 2-1), but conditions elsewhere appear to be generally unfavorable to deep geothermal exploration or development. Major areas of oil and gas production are limited to the northwest and southwest corners of South Dakota, although scattered petroleum exploration drilling has occurred throughout the state. The location of the state in the stable continental interior and the geological data indicate a tectonically quiescent environment [Bill W. Arnold, Patrick Brady, Mark Sutton, Karl Travis Robert MacKinnon, Fergus Gibb, and Harris Greenberg, Sandia National Laboratories, “Deep Borehole Disposal Research: Geological Data Evaluation, Alternative Waste Forms, and Borehole Seals,” Sandia National Laboratories for U.S. Department of Energy, 2014.09.05].
Sandia focused its research on the area of South Dakota marked in the red rectangle below, since the sedimentary layer there is even shallower, generally less than 1,000 meters:
Update 10:40 CDT: I’m reminded to read my own archives. The last time this blog discussed the Daugaard Administration’s hankering for nuclear waste, the Governor’s Office shared with the press a February 22, 2012, letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu regarding research on using South Dakota shale deposits for nuclear waste disposal. In that letter, Governor Daugaard said he could “see no reason not to conduct this research, as long as this proposition does not obligate the state of South Dakota to accept nuclear waste. Any such decision will be made based on the results of rigorous scientific study and a vote by the citizens of South Dakota. I will not support the storage of spent nuclear fuel in South Dakota without an affirmative public vote.”