By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. -A former top North Dakota health official will direct a study to explore the best ways to control dust clouds kicked up by the heavy truck traffic that has accompanied western North Dakota’s oil boom.
North Dakota’s Industrial Commission on Tuesday approved contributing $220,000 to the cost of the study. It will be done next spring, using unpaved stretches of road in Dunn and McKenzie counties as experiment sites. The stretches of road will be a half-mile to a mile long.
“The dust is terrible. It’s very noticeable. You can’t drive a pickup down the road without getting a film of dust on the truck bed every time you move around,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, the chairman of the Industrial Commission. “It is a problem, and we have to find some creative solutions.”
The study will test various dust-control methods, including spreading chemicals that draw water from the air, thus keeping the road’s surface damp, and substances that bind the soil together.
One popular dust suppressant, magnesium chloride, helps to keep a road surface damp. However, the chemical can make a road’s surface slippery when it is wet, and it does not do well at keeping dust down during extended dry periods.
Francis Schwindt, a former environmental health chief in the North Dakota Department of Health, is directing the study. Schwindt retired from the Health Department in 2002.
His research proposal said he hopes to discover dust-control techniques that can be used statewide. If control of road dust in western North Dakota’s oil-producing region does not improve, oil production itself could be curtailed, he said. “A partial shutdown of oilfield traffic occurred this spring due to the flooding and wet, soft roads. The opposite may also be true,” the research proposal says. “If extended drought conditions occur in the future, counties may be forced to limit traffic to reduce unsafe travel conditions and impacts to crops and county residents.”