NORM waste disposal has to be performed safely. This requires the services of a highly trained team of professional experts. It is common to dispose of NORM at sea, but this can only be done with the express permission of the relevant authorities first. If there is any oil contamination in the NORM, this must at least be reduced to a level that is acceptable, but preferably removed all together.
As well as disposal at sea, NORM can also be disposed of by sealing it securely and depositing it in a suitable place. Oil wells that have been abandoned or are depleted and therefore no longer useful make suitable places for disposing NORM. After placing the sealed NORM in an old well or reservoir, the cavity is then plugged and sealed securely to prevent the escape of any NORM.
It is also possible to build a custom facility for the long-term storage of NORM. This has the disadvantage of requiring close monitoring. It is also a more expensive option as the NORM waste can not be simply sealed up and forgotten about. It is also possible, but less common, to treat NORM through a chemical process.
It should come as no surprise that NORM waste management is one of the most heavily regulated areas of health and safety in the oil and gas industry, and indeed one of the most heavily regulated areas of any industry. For this reason the containment, removal, transportation and disposal of the NORM, as well as the initial detection procedures, must be undertaken by highly trained and trusted experts.
The equipment that comes into contact with the NORM must regularly be cleaned as well. Scale can accumulate and build up on the various tools that are used in oil and gas exploration and extraction, and this must be removed and disposed of safely. This requires a regular rolling programme of maintenance as well as monitoring to ensure safety.
Managing and disposing of NORM waste starts with the process of detecting its presence. Radiation protection supervisors constantly monitor and survey onsite using carefully calibrated equipment that can measure radiation levels. This is done to minimise the risk to all workers who may come into contact with NORM.
Equipment that has become contaminated by NORM needs to be de-scaled and returned to an acceptable level of radioactivity. Water jetting, or the use of ultra high-pressure water jets, are usually the first approach taken. This has proven to be extremely cost-effective and efficient. Following this procedure the de-scaled NORM waste is safely disposed of.
Managing NORM waste has become an inevitable part of the oil and gas industry's working practice. It is virtually impossible to prevent the build up of naturally occurring radioactive materials, so the only available solution is careful detection, removal, transportation and eventual disposal.