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Oil spills into Missouri River in North Dakota


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As many as 33 barrels of oil have been contained after spilling from a well into floodwaters near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in northwest North Dakota, the state’s Department of Health said Saturday.

Ice jams in the rivers resulting from warmer weather have caused the waters to rise and flood at least 16 wells southwest of Williston, but only one spilled Friday, said Kris Roberts, the head of the Health Department’s environmental response team.

“A tank didn’t have a sufficient amount of fluid in it to keep it anchored, and it started flooding a bit,” Roberts said. “It had about 33 barrels of oil in the tank, and the valve at the bottom of the tank broke.”

Roberts said the wells are surrounded by dikes but said one had a breach, allowing the oil to get into the floodwaters. It is unknown exactly how many of the 33 barrels actually spilled.

The well is operated by Colorado-based Zavanna, LLC. The company did not immediately return calls seeking comment. An employee who wouldn’t identify himself on Saturday said a company representative would address questions Monday.

The department is monitoring approximately 30 wells that are at risk in that area. Roberts said state officials this week had warned well operators about potential flooding. He said most operators temporarily sealed their wells and moved some of their equipment after the warning, but others didn’t take precautions.

“There’re a lot of oil companies operating up here that just don’t understand the state,” Roberts said. “They don’t understand how fast floodwaters can rise when you get an ice dam like this. That’s what caught some of them.”

Zavanna workers used containment booms to trap the oil, according to Roberts. He said the company owns three other wells that were under water Saturday.

About 17 miles of the Yellowstone River flows through North Dakota before it joins the Missouri River.

The big chunks of ice have created a dam in the Missouri River and caused the waters to accumulate near Williston, said Adam Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck. The river on Saturday was at 26 feet, which is considered to be a moderate flood stage. The Yellowstone River, which at the beginning of the month was at around 5 feet, hit 15 feet on Wednesday.

Jones said the ice jams are expected to start breaking in the next couple of days.

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One comment

  1. It is one thing to spill or cause to contaminate a farmer’s field, the railroad right of way of another State or kill innocent people in Quebec when the train cars derailed and Bakken crude contaminated the whole town. The towns people were placed under a mandatory evacuation order for up to 1 year, so the property could be cleaned and attempt at remediation take place. Toxic high levels of heavy metals, Pb, Hg, Ar were left all over the town.

    But now its the Missouri River. Last I checked, navigable waters are highly protected under several Federal laws. National Oil Response legislation has specific requirements for oil contaminating a river. Over 1200 gallons of unrefined crude oil and who knows what else? Acids, caustics, benzene, formaldehyde maybe, you know the trace amount of fraking chemicals called brine.

    What do the regulations or statue say about water or rainfall and diking requirements. Is a 2 or three inch scoria dike adequate? Or should the state have required what is more commonly used, real concrete dikes, enough to contain precipitation from a 50 yr or 100 yr. floodplain? This accident was 100 percent preventable, and for the Health Dept. to say the industry does not believe or understand how fast these waters can rise, is an excuse. Required training usually helps, and it is often tax-deductible!

    What about the rest of the site? It must have also flooded in the little berm they call a dike. The anchoring was not the issue if the regs are followed properly, and the bermed area and dike or berm is high enough and built strong enough to withstand this flooding. That is the reason safety margins are built in to the regs, like 3 times the largest volume of total tank capacity….etc.

    Sounds like the ND Health Department is clueless to me.

    But when the

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