US pipeline spill clean-up to take 2 weeks

2014-07-10 16:46
(Picture: Shutterstock)

(Picture: Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

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Mandaree - It could take weeks to clean up after a pipeline leaked 3.8m liters of salt water on an oil-producing reservation in the heart of North Dakota's booming oil patch, with some of the fluid finding its way to a bay that connects to the reservation's main source of drinking water, company and tribal officials say.

Salt water is a naturally occurring, unwanted byproduct of oil and natural gas production that is between 10 and 30 times saltier than sea water. The northwestern state of North Dakota considers it an environmental hazard.

The spill occurred on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which plays a key role in North Dakota's oil production, the second-highest in the US. The reservation, occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, represents more than 300 000 of North Dakota's 1 million barrels of oil produced daily, according to the state's Department of Mineral Resources.

The number of salt water spills in North Dakota has grown with the state's soaring oil production. North Dakota produced 25.5 million barrels of brine in 2012, the latest figures available. A barrel is 119 litres. There were 141 pipeline leaks reported in North Dakota in 2012, 99 of which spilled about 8 000 barrels of salt water. About 6 150 barrels of the spilled salt water was recovered, state regulators said.

Clean-up continued on the Fort Berthold reservation on Thursday and Miranda Jones, vice president of environmental safety and regulatory at Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Services, said it was expected to last for weeks.

Jones said the leak at the underground pipeline, owned by Crestwood subsidiary Aero Pipeline LLC, probably started over the Fourth of July holiday weekend but was only discovered on Tuesday. The pipeline was not equipped with a system that sends an alert when there is a leak, she said, and the spill was only discovered when the company was going through production loss reports.

An unknown amount of the fluid entered Bear Den Bay. That bay leads to Lake Sakakawea, which provides water for the reservation. But company and tribal officials said the spill has been isolated and contained and has not impacted the lake.

In 2006, a broken oil pipeline belched more than 3.8m litres of salt water into a North Dakota creek, aquifer and pond. The clean-up efforts are ongoing at that site, which has been called the worst environmental disaster in state history.

That spill came during the infancy of North Dakota's oil boom. Now, a network of salt water pipelines extends to hundreds of disposal wells in western North Dakota, where the brine is pumped underground for permanent storage.

- AP

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