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Natural Occurring Radioactive Materials, or NORMs, are materials which have always been present in the environment and include elements such as uranium, thorium, radium and radon.

Some NORMs can be found in geological materials and even groundwater can have concentrations when in contact with bedrock that contains NORMs.

Although the concentration of NORMs in most shallow aquifer systems is considered low, deep saline water which is produced along with oil and gas extraction activities (i.e., produced water) can have higher levels of NORMs. A fact sheet produced by the US Geological Survey entitled “Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Produced Water and Oil-Field Equipment – An Issue for the Energy Industry” provides a technical overview on some of relevant geochemical aspects of NORMs. In B.C., there is a multi-layered regulatory system in place to ensure the safe handling, transportation and disposal of NORMs.

Worker Health and Safety and Transportation: WorkSafeBC is responsible for safety related to workplace exposure hazards involving NORMs, and the transport of NORMs is regulated through the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. The BC Oil and Gas Commission (Commission) works with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (MOE), WorkSafeBC and the oil and gas industry to ensure waste fluids are properly handled and safely disposed.

NORMs Waste Disposal: NORMs management is a designated activity in the Waste Discharge Regulation under the Environmental Management Act (EMA), meaning authorization is required to dispose (above ground or underground) of any waste containing NORMs above specified concentrations. Health Canada has produced Canadian Guidelines for the Management of NORM, which identifies activities and concentrations of NORMs that are safe to release.

In the oil and gas sector, a disposal well is connected to a deep depleted oil or gas pool or porous formation, where waste fluids can be injected for safe removal. Companies seeking to operate disposal wells for any type of fluid must apply through the Commission. Disposal wells in B.C. are regulated under the Oil and Gas Activities Act., and disposal of produced water is allowed in B.C. under the Oil and Gas Waste Regulation (under EMA). These fluids either originated deep underground or came into contact with deep underground formations and are being returned to a deep underground formation that is authorized for disposal. Any other NORM containing waste must receive site specific authorization under the EMA for disposal.

With respect to NORMs solids, landfilling is regulated through permits issued by MOE. These permits regulate the disposal of NORM waste to ensure protection of the environment and the public. There are currently no landfill sites in B.C. permitted to accept NORMs exceeding the lower defined threshold (of 70 Bq/g), set by Health Canada, and permit holders must ensure they meet this federal guideline.

While there are no landfill sites or disposal wells in B.C. currently permitted to accept NORMs waste with higher levels, some waste disposal sites outside B.C. do accept such materials. Should a company wish to transport NORMs, the federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act regulates the transportation of wastes with NORMs at higher levels. Provincially, the Hazardous Waste Regulation outlines the requirements for transporting hazardous waste in B.C. The transportation of hazardous wastes must be accompanied by a written hazardous waste manifest.

Spills: Both the (MOE) and the Commission have regulatory authority to enforce the EMA in the unlikely event NORM contaminated waste were to be released to the environment without authorization. Such an incident has not happened in B.C.

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