UPDATED: Pipeline leak spills 17,000 barrels of saltwater

MARMARTH, N.D. — A saltwater pipeline leak in Montana has released 17,000 barrels of brine, polluting more than a mile of a creek in the Badlands of southwest North Dakota, authorities said Tuesday.

The spill, reported Monday by Denbury Onshore, reached the Big Gumbo Creek and flowed down 1.4 miles of the creek into a rural area of Bowman County, about 14 miles south of Marmarth, the North Dakota Department of Health said.

The spill, which is equivalent to about 714,000 gallons, is one of the largest saltwater spills to occur in North Dakota, said Dennis Fewless, the health department’s director of the Division of Water Quality.

The creek is not a source of public drinking water.

Dean Pearson, Bowman County emergency manager, said the creek eventually runs into the Little Missouri River. The cleanup effort will include tests between where the spill stopped and where it goes into the river to make sure the saltwater isn’t traveling that way, Pearson said.

“Oil is easy to clean up,” Pearson said. “This is tough. It sometimes kills grass for years to come after if it’s not cleaned up properly. It’s actually more of a concern, environmentally, than oil is.”

Saltwater comes to the surface during oil production and oil companies are responsible for properly disposing of the brine.

John Gizicki, a compliance specialist with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas, said the line that leaked was a fiberglass line carrying production water from one Denbury facility to another.

Denbury personnel began looking for a release when measurement equipment indicated a potential loss of fluid from the line, said Jack Collins, a spokesman for Denbury Resources.

The company discovered the leak Monday and reported the release that day, Collins said. It is on the border of Fallon County in Montana and Bowman County in North Dakota, affecting about 1.5 miles in each state.

“Immediate action was taken to stop the release and to contain and recover the saltwater from the non-flowing drainage areas that it had entered,” he said.

No one was hurt and the area is secure and poses no threat to the public, Collins said.

The cause and duration of the saltwater release are under investigation, Collins said.

Shifting ground due to changes in temperature may have caused the pipeline to split, Gizicki said. The area is a combination of federal and private land, he said.

Kris Roberts, a North Dakota Department of Health environmental geologist who was on site Tuesday, said the area is a creek in name only and usually is a dry drainage area. Those who work in the area said it would be dry now if this hadn’t been a wet year, he said.

Crews will suck up the contaminated water, flush the area with clean water to dilute salinity to appropriate levels and will check the salinity of the water in checkpoints along the spill, Gizicki said.

Pearson said the saltwater was contained within channels in what he described as “Badlands rough country.”

“It’s all in the channels, so it didn’t do any damage to pastures and it didn’t do any damage anybody’s fields,” Pearson said.

The North Dakota Department of Health will continue to monitor the response and cleanup.

A 2006 pipeline spill dumped about 1 million gallons of saltwater into Charbonneau Creek in northwest North Dakota.

The Charbonneau Creek spill prompted North Dakota regulators to identify saltwater pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas and require them to have continuous monitoring through meters and pressure gauges.

The Montana Board of Oil and Gas oversees wells and facilities related to oil and gas production, but does not have rules specific to these types of transfer lines, Gizicki said

“We don’t have regulations on these lines, really,” Gizicki said. “If they have a spill, we make sure they clean it up.”

This spill may prompt the agency to discuss adding more surveillance of the saltwater lines, Gizicki said.

“We don’t want to see these,” he said.

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