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Well spews oily mist near Parshall

Amy Dalrymple/Forum Communications A mist of oil sprays from an oil well near Parshall on Thursday, after an equipment malfunction occurred. A specialized crew flew from Texas to get control of the well.

PARSHALL -- An oil well that began to malfunction Wednesday evening continued to spray a mist of oil into the air late Thursday but is expected to be contained this morning, an official at the scene said.

The mist of oil from the well about nine miles west of Parshall appeared to be contained shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. Crews used the bucket of a backhoe to cover the mist and keep it from blowing up into the air, said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health.

But the risk of a static spark that could start a fire was too high, so crews removed the equipment about 4 p.m. and the mist continued to spray to the north Thursday evening, Roberts said.

"One spark would have been one way too many," he said.

About 6 p.m. Thursday, crews were closing down for the day because it was getting too dark, Roberts said.

They will resume working this morning, he said.

The well did not pose any danger to public health and there was no need for evacuations, Roberts said.

Kyle Waliezer, Rockies area superintendent for Slawson Exploration Co., said a crew was working on the well between 6 and 7 p.m. Wednesday when an equipment malfunction occurred. No one was injured, he said.

The malfunction, which is under investigation, caused the workers to lose control of the well, Waliezer said.

A specialized team from Houston flew to North Dakota Wednesday night to get control of the well, but a brownish mist, occasionally surging higher than the top of the service rig, continued to spray into the air. They will continue their work Friday.

Lake Sakakawea, less than one mile to the south of the well, was not in danger of being affected, Roberts said.

The well sprayed oil, gas and water containing brine, Roberts said. The mist drifted more than 2,000 feet to the southwest of the well before the wind shifted, he said. The mist was spraying to the north and Roberts estimates it has affected an area of about 1,500 feet. The amount of oil released is unknown, Roberts said.

Cleanup crews would not begin working until the well was contained, Roberts said.

Slawson hired a firm to monitor gas levels in the area to ensure the safety of nearby residents, Waliezer said.

Workers constructed dikes around the well site to contain the spill and prevent it from getting to a drainage area that could affect the lake. Waliezer said Slawson constructs its well sites so oil can be contained on site in the event of a spill.

"They've done an excellent job of trying to make sure they're safe and contained," Roberts said.

Prior to the incident, the well had been in production, but a workover rig, or service rig, was brought in to clean out sand and improve production, Waliezer said.

The state Department of Mineral Resources and other agencies also were on the scene investigating.

A safety officer from the Three Affiliated Tribes energy division also was monitoring the well, which lies within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.