BISMARCK, N.D. — Following the largest saltwater spill of North Dakota’s current oil boom, Democrats in the state legislature said Thursday they will revisit measures overwhelmingly rejected two years ago that would mandate additional monitoring and safeguards.
Cleanup was underway after the spill of nearly 3 million gallons of brine leaked from a pipeline in western North Dakota. It affected two creeks, but the full environmental impact may not be known for months. Some previous spills of saltwater, a salty, toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production, are still being cleaned up years later.
House Assistant Minority leader Cory Mock, D-Grand Forks, told The Associated Press that legislation, similar to what a Republican pushed two years ago, is expected to be introduced by Monday that would require flow meters and cutoff switches on pipelines that carry oilfield wastewater.
“It should not take a 3 million gallon spill to realize that this monitoring is needed,” said Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks. “If North Dakota does not get this under control, the feds are going to step in and do it for us. And nothing is going to slow the oil industry down like the federal government. We want to protect our environment first and foremost but this also will be good for industry in the long run.”
A state health official has said inspectors have been monitoring the area, in the heart of North Dakota’s oil country. Operator Summit Midstream Partners had said a contractor would be on site Thursday, assessing the damage.
The brine, which is up to 30 times saltier than sea water, also may contain petroleum and residue from hydraulic fracturing operations. North Dakota has thousands of miles of underground pipelines that carry it and other liquids — a network that is largely unmonitored. State lawmakers passed a broad measure two years ago that requires pipeline owners to submit the whereabouts of such pipelines and notify regulators when they are abandoned.
Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources, whose agency regulates North Dakota’s oil and gas industry, said the pipeline that breached near Williston had some “metering” in place but it is not known what type.
Republican Rep. Dick Anderson of Willow City sponsored legislation two years ago that would mandate flow meters and cutoff switches on saltwater pipelines. The measure failed 86-4 after encountering resistance from oil companies that argued the additional monitoring would be too expensive. State regulators said such safeguards are ineffective on small holes because the leaks would not be strong enough to be detected.
Anderson said the most recent spill — in his district and about 20 miles from his farm — is one more example that something needs to be done to ensure that such catastrophic spills are avoided.
“We need to find a system that works to prevent these,” Anderson told the AP. “I think we can and I think we’re making progress.”
Anderson said he’s been in contact with some companies that believe they have the technology to monitor the pipelines that is cost-effective and efficient. He said once the technology is proven, he would reintroduce his legislation in two years.
Ritter said officials are working with Anderson to identify technology that can be tested for use on pipelines. No state money, however, has been earmarked for the effort.
Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said he believes technology already exists to monitor saltwater pipelines and officials have to look no further than the metering used to track the number of barrels of crude that are being sucked from the ground.
“Companies can measure this stuff when they want to,” he said. “But technology in and of itself will not save us from this problem that is decimating thousands of acres of North Dakota.”
This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.