Leaving a trail: Million gallon saltwater spill leaves trail of dead vegetation
MANDAREE — A pipeline leak in a remote area near the Missouri River is estimated to have spilled more than 1 million gallons of saltwater and has left a trail of dying vegetation and will require weeks of cleanup.
In a statement issued Thursday, Houston based-Crestwood Midstream Partners said about 24,000 barrels of saltwater was released and contained, with the cleanup and remediation process under way.
“That’s huge. If it isn’t the largest (spill), it’s at the top of the list,” said Dave Glatt, chief of the environmental health section of the North Dakota Health Department.
The leak was discovered Tuesday in a remote area of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which Crestwood believes started over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“We noticed a reduction in the volume of flow in our daily volume reports, so we started probing for possible reasons and uncovered the leak Tuesday morning,” the company said in a statement.
The leak is near Bear Den Bay on Lake Sakakawea, a reservoir of the Missouri, about four miles northeast of Mandaree and about 1½ miles from the river. Sampling, visual inspection and other testing indicate the spill has not impacted the lake, according to Crestwood.
Glatt said there was more concern with this spill due to the proximity to Lake Sakakawea and the spill’s path to the lake. Health officials have collected water samples and will perform analysis, which will be released to the Three Affiliated Tribes.
“If it impacted water that raises the bar in terms of severity,” he said.
Saltwater, or brine, is a byproduct of oil production that is piped away from well sites for disposal. When released, it’s high salinity can damage water and plant life.
Karolin Rockvoy, emergency manager for McKenzie County, toured the spill site Tuesday and saw a large swath of dead vegetation leading away from the site.
“Saltwater more or less sterilizes the land, grasses and shrubs. I don’t know if trees were affected. It’s not good, I can tell you that,” she said.
Kerry Sublette, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Tulsa, has been working in the area of oil and brine spills for more than 25 years. After reviewing photos of the impacted vegetation, he concluded the spill was “days old.”
“This is a new spill. … This browning happens pretty quickly within 24 hours or so. If this was an older spill I would expect to see vegetation collapsing, so the fact that it’s still upright when it came in contact with saltwater, it’s pretty new.”
Crestwood said it would continue to work closely with the Three Affiliated Tribes and appropriate federal and local authorities.
Tribal authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working on a remedy, Glatt said, adding the cleanup could take weeks with careful consideration of the best way to move forward and not create environmental damage.
“Anytime you have a spill on rugged terrain, going through a drainage area, that’s difficult to clean up because you can’t get equipment in to clean up the contaminated material,” he said.
Sublette said remediation would consist of reducing the salinity and addressing the impact of brine on soil structure by adding calcium amendments. The type of spill, topography and the location of groundwater all factor into the plan that’s done in an environmental manner.
“You’re basically washing the soil, it has to go somewhere, it has to be diluted. Treat soil with calcium amendments — this is all a doable deal (and) has to be done with some knowledge,” he said.
The pipeline is a gathering system owned by Arrow Pipeline, a subsidiary of Crestwood Midstream Partners. When the company acquired Arrow’s gathering system in November 2013, it didn’t have a remote monitoring system in place.
“The installation of a remote monitoring system —also known as a SCADA —has been a high priority, and having installed SCADA on the gas pipelines, we are expanding our SCADA capabilities to the crude and water pipelines,” the company said in the statement.
A 2006 pipeline spill also dumped about 1 million gallons of saltwater into Charbonneau Creek in northwest North Dakota.
A saltwater pipeline leak in November in Montana released 17,000 barrels of saltwater into the Badlands of southwest North Dakota.
An oil pipeline leak near Tioga in September released 20,600 barrels of oil.