North Dakota Oil Spill – Bigger Than Initially Reported

This article appeared in the Bismarck Tribune on Friday, May 20. A landowner notified the McKenzie County Emergency Manager that there was oil spilled near Keene in western North Dakota which may have flowed into a stock pond where cattle drink and into a creek that drains into Lake Sakakawea. Back on May 2, the company responsible for the spill, Newfield Exploration, reported that there was a 100-barrel spill as a result of a blizzard that knocked out power, but company officials told authorities that the oil was contained to a pit on the well site. Newfield told the department at that time there was no risk of any impact, that the spill was ‘contained’, and therefore, state health officials said that they didn’t initially investigate the spill.

It wasn’t until the landowner reported the possible flow into the larger body of water that officials took a look. The county’s Emergency Manager, Jerry Samuelson, said that the spill was actually more than 2 miles long and it appeared that there were more than 100 barrels spilled. Scott Radig, the State Health Department director of waste management, said the initial report was that 85 barrels were recovered from the spill, which apparently occurred because Newfield’s diesel-driven pump kept operating during the storm and no one could get to the well to shut it in.

“They reported it was contained within the dike except for a small amount of oil sprayed in the strong wind,” he said.

There is no record of this spill yet in the official oil and hazardous materials incident reports collected by the National Response Center. Maybe they weren’t required to report this spill; maybe they were, and failed to do so. Exactly the kind of question our new intern Michelle will be helping us look into.