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Damage believed minimal from western ND spill

BISMARCK (AP) -- Environmental damage from a saltwater and oil spill in western North Dakota that reached Lake Sakakawea is believed minimal, state and federal officials said Wednesday.

About 100 barrels of so-called saltwater, a mineral-rich water that is a byproduct of oil production, reached the Missouri River reservoir, said Mike Sauer, a senior scientist with the North Dakota Health Department who visited the site on Tuesday. Most of the estimated five barrels of oil that leaked from a ruptured pipeline was being recovered but some oil did get into the lake water, he said.

The third-largest manmade lake in the country is still frozen over in that area, but "along the shoreline there's a little gap of liquid water," Sauer said. There was no visible damage to fish, vegetation, or any other wildlife, he said.

"I would suspect the environmental damage on Lake Sakakawea, if any, is extremely minimal," Sauer said.

The U.S. Forest Service said Dallas-based Petro-Hunt LLC on Saturday reported the pipeline rupture near Keene, about a mile from the lake. Officials believe the 3-inch pipe cracked because of ground shifting, Sauer and Forest Service spokeswoman Sharon Higley said.

The pipeline crosses the Little Missouri National Grassland. Sauer said he did not notice any livestock in the remote area, and Higley said she was not aware of any private water wells there.

"It's pretty inaccessible in some parts," Sauer said.

The saltwater and oil entered a creek that flows only when there is rain or snowmelt and contains no fish, Sauer said. From there it flowed to the lake. Petro-Hunt workers used hay mats to soak up the oil in the creek and propane torches to burn off oil from vegetation along the shoreline, he said.

"I was satisfied with the speed and direction" of the effort, he said.

Calls to Petro-Hunt headquarters in Dallas and the regional office in Bismarck were not immediately returned on Wednesday. A woman who answered the phone at the company's Killdeer office referred The Associated Press to District Safety Coordinator Doug Hanson, who did not immediately respond to a message left on his cell phone.

The company could face sanctions for the spill including fines. Sauer said the Health Department eventually will turn the results of its investigation over to the state Attorney General's Office, and Higley said the Forest Service will forward its findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office.