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North Dakota increases oil well inspections on flood threat

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota regulators increased oil well inspections Wednesday because of flood threats and have told operators near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers to take precautions. Four nearby wells that have flooded in the past were being shut down as a precaution.

Forecasters said recent rains could cause the water level near Williston to exceed the flood stage of 22 feet by the weekend.

Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mineral Resources, said regulators notified 13 companies who own about 80 wells in the area to dike the sites and secure their equipment. “The well sites might not flood but the access roads might,” Ritter said. “So we want to make sure they have everything secure now in case they lose access.”

The four wells that Ritter said were being shut down include at least one owned by Denver-based Zavanna LLC, which was swamped last year with water that backed up in the ice-choked channel. An unanchored tank that contained about 33 barrels of oil floated at the well site and broke a valve, leaking about 1,400 gallons of oil. Most of that spill was contained by booms as floodwaters receded, but the oil coated brush, trees and grass in the area, officials said.

North Dakota regulators have issued flood warnings in the past but some companies failed to take precautions. In 2011, regulators said some oil companies did not do enough to protect against flooding and others simply ignored the warnings to protect oil waste pits from rising spring waters.

Regulators said about 10 percent of the state’s 500 waste ponds were swamped by meltwater after one of the state’s snowiest winters on record. Runoff from the waste pits, which are about the size of a large swimming pool and can contain oil, diesel, drilling muds and chemicals, did not threaten drinking water sources, the state Health Department said.

Regulators later levied $3 million in fines against 19 companies that failed to protect against spring flooding. New rules also were put in place banning the practice of dumping liquid drilling wastes into an open pit.

In related news, North Dakota orders oil wells shut in over flooding concerns.

This article was written by James Macpherson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.