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Spill reported at well site without berm

NEW TOWN, N.D. - A brine spill that affected a coulee and contaminated cropland this week may have been minimized if the site had a perimeter berm as proposed by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, a health official said Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The North Dakota Department of Health is investigating a spill of 150 barrels, or 6,300 gallons, of produced water that occurred Tuesday at a saltwater disposal well about 7 miles northeast of New Town.

The spill primarily remained on location, but an estimated five to 10 barrels, or 210 to 420 gallons, was not contained, said Bill Suess, spill investigations program manager for the health department.

The brine, a waste byproduct of oil production, traveled an estimated 400 feet and reached a nearby drainage area and contaminated some cropland, Suess said.

The site owned by Goodnight Midstream, which recently changed its name from 1804 Operating, did not have a perimeter berm, Suess said. The Industrial Commission recently approved new rules requiring most oil sites to have six-inch perimeter berms to minimize impact from spills by keep more of them contained.

The rules were set to take effect Oct. 1, but the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee postponed action on the new rules until its December meeting, citing a need for more clarification.

"I can't say for certain it would have completely been contained with a berm, but it obviously would have had a much better chance," Suess said.

Goodnight Midstream plans to construct a perimeter berm at that facility in the next 60 to 90 days, said Richard Rehm, chief operating officer. The company considers it a best practice and has perimeter berms at 14 of its 16 facilities in North Dakota, Rehm said.

"We're actually in the process of approving the remainder of these perimeter berms," he said.

The spill was caused by an employee who failed to open a valve, Rehm said. In addition, a safety shutdown device also failed, he said.

Crews responded within hours with vacuum trucks to clean up the spill, Rehm said.

Initial field investigation shows that the contamination did not go very deep into the soil, Suess said. Health officials and the Oil and Gas Division are expected to inspect the site and monitor the cleanup.