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County Halts Borehole Drilling

By Staff | Feb 5, 2016

At its regular meeting Tuesday morning, the Board of County Commissioners voted to put deep borehole drilling to a halt.

The board approved a resolution written by States’ Attorney Galen Mack to put a moratorium on deep drilling – with the exception of water wells – until more information was received from John Harju, of the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, during a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 9:30 a.m. at Dakota Farms.

As reported in the Jan. 16 edition of the Tribune, the U.S. Department of Energy selected a team led by the Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute- which also included the EERC; Schlumberger, a Houston-based oilfield drilling company; and Solexperts AG, a Monchaltorf, Switzerland-based construction firm specializing in geotechnical and hydrogeological instrumentations and field tests-on a $35 million project to drill a test hole 16,000 feet deep into crystalline basement rock south of Rugby, near the townships of Balta, Elverum, Girard and Rosedale. The press release said the test would determine if the formation was suitable for numerous applications, including nuclear waste disposal, geothermal energy development and minerals.

The proposed site is on land owned by the State Board of University & School Trust Lands. Last week, Commission Chairman Dave Migler and District 4 Commissioner Duane Johnston attended that board’s meeting in Bismarck, where the board was first introduced to the proposal by Harju, but no application was presented.

Several Pierce County residents, including Charles Volk, Brad Jacobs, Riley Schaan, Todd Lysne, Duane Hawk and Bill Deck were in attendance to express concerns over the borehole project.

Volk, who lives near the proposed site, urged the board to take immediate action and stop the test.

“It feels like drilling disguised as a scientific experiment and is being railroaded into our community,” Volk said.

Lysne expressed concerns about the transportation of nuclear materials, which Migler also echoed, as there are curvy and narrow roads near the proposed site.

“All of us here feel pretty deep about this,” Migler said.

Mack said that he met with State Land Commissioner Lance Gaebe, who expressed concerns about the borehole project. Mack also shared a letter he wrote to the state’s congressional delegation- Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer-asking for an investigation and to share their findings.

District 14 Representative Jon Nelson said Harju talked to him, saying Harju was very disappointed in how the information on the project got out. Nelson said there were two issues with the project; the first was determining if the land was suitable and the second was if the land were determined suitable then what could the state and Pierce County do.

“That’s the key phrase: ‘may be suitable’,” Migler said.

Nelson also suggested that Dave Glatt, chief of the N.D. Department of Health’s environmental health section, and Ed Murphy, state geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, be invited to speak at the special meeting.

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