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North Dakota has stopped using salt water left over from oil production to clear the roads of ice. Officials are waiting for results from a laboratory that is checking the wastewater for contamination, before continuing the using the salt water.
According to the Canadian Press, the state Health Department discovered last week that the Transportation Department had been using oil well waste water, up to 10 times saltier than sea water, to clear ice in parts of North Dakota since the late 1960s.
Environmentalists fear that this salty water may hurt wetlands and water supplies. The state chapter of the Sierra Club noted that no other states use the water in the same manner as North Dakota.
A sample of the oil well wastewater has been sent to a Minnesota lab for analysis. It is not clear whether or not the department intends to resume using the wastewater on roads once the test results are returned.
Dennis Fewless, the Health Department's water quality director, told the Canadian Press that the department suggested the use of the wastewater stop, but did not make it a requirement.
Transportation officials told the Canadian Press that tens of thousands of liters of the oil well wastewater are used on North Dakota roads each year and crews have not seen any harmful results. The state receives the water at no cost from oil companies, which otherwise would have to pay to dispose of it in underground wells.
North Dakota law requires anyone in possession of any oil field fluid, including salt water, must keep complete and accurate records. Failure to do so is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a US$5,000 fine.