Oilfield Sewage Line Spills in Northwestern North Dakota


BISMARCK, ND (AP) — North Dakota regulators are investigating a massive spill of oilfield wastewater from a broken pipeline in the northwest part of the state that they say could take longer a year to clean.

Karl Rockman of the state Department of Environmental Quality said Monday that New York-based Hess Corp., which owns the pipeline, reported the saltwater spill eight miles northwest of Ray on August 15 and estimated its size at 8,400 gallons (31,797 liters). He said the company significantly increased its estimate on Monday to 1.4 million gallons (63.6 million liters), enough to fill more than two Olympic-size swimming pools.

Rockman said Hess believed the 6-inch steel-reinforced composite pipe had been leaking since at least July 21, but the company didn’t discover the rupture until mid-August. It is not known if a private landowner or the company discovered the spill.

The pipeline was pressure monitored for leaks. Rockman said it’s unclear why the spill was not detected earlier.

It was also not immediately clear what caused the leak in the pipeline. Agency officials were on hand to oversee the cleanup and investigate the spill, said Rockman, who heads the department’s water quality division.

Rockman said the spill happened about 3 kilometers from the nearest water well in the area. No source of drinking water was threatened, he said.

Rockman did not immediately know how much land was affected.

Workers began digging up soil from parts of the affected area, Rockman said. Cleanup and restoration of the site will likely take at least a year, he said.

The amount of sewage reported to be dumped by the company could more than fill two Olympic swimming pools.

“It’s big,” he said of the spill. “That is going to take time.”

Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, said in a statement that “the spill is a reminder of the need to invest more in surveillance technology so that we don’t rely on farmers and ranchers as the first line of defense in detecting pests. leaks”.

Wastewater is a by-product of oil production that contains salt water and oil, and sometimes chemicals from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Salt water is an unwanted byproduct of oil and gas development and is considered an environmental hazard by the state. It is several times saltier than seawater and can easily kill vegetation exposed to it. Called produced water by the industry, it can also contain oil and chemicals from hydraulic fracturing operations.

The largest such spill on record in North Dakota occurred north of Williston over a five-month period in 2014 and 2015. It contaminated more than 30 miles of Missouri River tributaries, as well as land and groundwater.

The Summit Midstream Partners pipeline leaked 700,000 barrels, or 29 million gallons (109,776,942 liters), of wastewater. Summit was ordered to pay $35 million in civil and criminal penalties.

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