A pipeline spill last week in Billings County released around 4,200 barrels or 176,000 gallons of crude oil from the Belle Fourche Pipeline, approximately 16 miles northwest of Belfield. Reuters reported that Bill Seuss, program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health, said approximately 3,100 barrels of the 4,200 spilled slid into Ash Coulee Creek, which feeds into the Missouri River. Approximately 5.4 miles of the creek have been impacted.
Seuss said more than 100 people are working to clean up the spill, reported CNN.
Any time it gets into water, we respond differently and we take it more seriously.
Cleanup efforts are underway, with approximately a third of the crude reported as recovered since the leak was reported on Dec. 5. Seuss told Reuters that cleanup has been difficult due to the extreme cold, but temperatures also slowed the movement of oil down the creek since the water is frozen. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) continues to investigate the incident. The company is working with a remediation company out of Alberta that specializes in cold weather cleanup.
The Belle Fourche Pipeline is 6 inches in diameter and carries approximately 1,000 barrels of oil per hour, 24,000 barrels per day, according to Wendy Owen, spokesperson for True Companies, the company that owns the pipeline. True Companies is based out of Casper, Wyoming. Owen said cause of the leak is unknown, and monitoring equipment did not detect the leak, likely because of intermittent flow.
The pipeline is located in very rough terrain in the Badlands of North Dakota, and Owen said the remote area and the topography itself makes access points difficult, reported Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple on Monday. Seuss said the pipeline is located in a hill that is slumping, which may have caused the leak.
Dalrymple noted that it’s unknown how long the Belle Fourche Pipeline was leaking before the landowner had discovered it, despite reports by Kevin Connors, pipelines program supervisor for the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, that the pipeline had gauges and meters to monitor for leaks. Connors also said the company does aerial inspections of the pipelines once a month.
The spill has fueled the protest cries near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Brianna Acuesta, from trueactivist.com, took the media to task for not reporting spills with the same fervor as the pipeline protests. She said any reporting on the spill focused on the economic impact to consumers rather than the ecological repercussions. Acuesta said in discussion of another recent pipeline spill in Alabama earlier this year:
This oil leak proves that everything the Native Americans are worried about will eventually happen to their land.
Tara Housak, a Native American environmental activist from the Oceti Sakowin protest camp, told NBC News that she believes an oil spill into the Missouri would be inevitable. Housak, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, a nonprofit organization focused on raising awareness and financial support for indigenous environmental justice, said:
The spill gives further credence to our position that pipelines are not safe. Oil companies’ interest is on their profit margins, not public safety.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the Dakota Access Pipeline, says its pipeline would include safeguards that would close valves within three minutes if a breach is detected. However, opponents to the pipeline argue such monitors can fail, and now use the Belle Fourche pipeline incident as evidence. The Dakota Access, however, argues their equipment is updated and state of the art, as opposed to other pipelines whose detection equipment is outdated.