WATFORD CITY, N.D. – A well blowout caused oil and brine to contaminate several acres of land in Dunn County but the incident did not cause injuries or affect waterways, the North Dakota Department of Health said Monday.
The blowout occurred about 10:30 a.m. Saturday at a well site owned by XTO Energy about 18 miles southeast of Watford City, said Bill Suess, spill investigations program manager.
The blowout released an estimated 110 barrels, or 4,620 gallons, of brine and 550 barrels, or 23,100 gallons of oil. Most of the spill was contained on the well site, but some escaped and contaminated the rugged Badlands terrain, Suess said.
“It didn’t spread too far,” Suess said. “Most of it went straight up in the air and landed right back down on the well pad.”
No surface water was affected by the spill, and cleanup crews have placed containment booms in dry drainage areas to prevent contamination from spreading if it rains, Suess said.
“For a blowout of this size, it doesn’t look like it’s a really severe environmental impact,” he said. “We think we got a little lucky on this one.”
Crews were doing completion work on the well when the blowout occurred, XTO spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said. XTO’s response team, which includes special equipment and trained personnel, was immediately activated, and crews regained control of the well early Sunday morning, she said.
No one was hurt and the public was not put in danger, Guthrie said.
“Our main concern is for the safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors in the region,” she said.
Cleanup work is ongoing at the site, with 90 barrels, or 3,780 gallons, of brine recovered and 450 barrels, or 18,900 gallons, of oil recovered, the health department said.
An initial reported indicated that about 15 acres were affected by the spill, but a health department inspector at the scene estimated that to be about 10 acres, Suess said.
“We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously,” Guthrie said. “We will be examining the cause of the incident to work to prevent reoccurrence.”
A blowout is an uncontrolled flow of oil, gas, brine, or a mixture of these. Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, has said a blowout is the highest-risk failure in the oil and gas industry for both human health and safety as well as potential environmental impact.
Department of Mineral Resources inspectors also are investigating, but spokeswoman Alison Ritter said she couldn’t answer many questions on it because the well is on confidential status which limits what information can be disclosed for up to six months.