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Oil spill contained, clean up efforts underway

Dozens of bright yellow hazardous material bags lined the perimeter of a an oil well site as workers soaked up oil out of dotted brown and rainbow-colored water puddles.

An oil holding pond, which was leaking into a creek about six miles southwest of Dickinson since Sunday, is contained, according to North Dakota and Stark County officials.

Snowmelt caused the pond to overflow, Stark County Interim Emergency Manager Gary Kostelecky said.

"That started to work its way towards a creek and that creek eventually dumps into the Heart River," he said. "It's probably good that we've got this much runoff because that's going to dissipate whatever product was put into the river, if there is any. Otherwise, of course, it's hazardous for the fish and wildlife."

The oil company responsible for the spill is Hallick and although the company had known about the spill since Sunday, they didn't alert authorities, Kostelecky said.

Bud Griffin, who owns the land the site is on, alerted authorities Wednesday that oil appeared to be spilling out of the pond.

"It was running all over out here," Griffin said, adding he wished it hadn't happened.

Kostelecky said the spill isn't a threat to people in the area.

"We don't use that water for drinking or anything," he said. "Thankfully the soil is at a point right now where it's saturated a little bit and the oil is not soaking into the ground."

Kostelecky said although Hallick reported it began cleaning the spill Sunday, it's possible oil flowed into the Heart River.

"They stopped it when they got there but there could've been some product hat got there before that," Kostelecky said. "It doesn't appear there's any major damage at this time."

Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said that's unlikely and no oil has been detected in the river.

How much oil leaked from the pond is unclear.

"The reported volume is zero barrels -- just a small sheen of oil," Helms said.

However, Shane Herman, president of Enviro Shield Products, Inc., which is performing cleanup operations, estimates at least 100 barrels ran out of the pond.

"It's possible," Helms said. "It's unlikely that there was 100 barrels of oil floating on top of that pit. That's a very unusual situation. It's usually less than 10 barrels of oil."

State officials warned Hallick its pond was too full in February, Helms added.

"I don't know yet if we're going to take enforcement action, but there's a probability that we will," Helms said.

Oil companies are also required to report spills within 24 hours, he added.

"There's also a rule that says oil is not to be allowed to flow across the surface of the land," Helms said. "So there are three separate counts."

Hallick could face up to $87,500 in fines for the three counts, he added.

A barrier around the site could have easily prevented the spill, Kostelecky and Helms said.

"If a site like that is near a perennial stream, then we require a barrier around it, but the typical well site like that one doesn't require it," Helms said.

Herman expected the cleanup to cost Hallick at least $50,000, he said.

"It's an extensive cleanup," Herman said.

He expected his crew to be working on the cleanup through Monday.

Attempts to reach a Hallick representative Friday were unsuccessful.