Oil spill hits the Missouri River south of Williston

2011-07-15T00:18:00Z Oil spill hits the Missouri River south of WillistonBy LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
July 15, 2011 12:18 am  • 

TRENTON — An obviously shaken owner of the oil well that caused the first oil spill directly into the Missouri River in North Dakota said he wants to do the right thing and clean up any effects of the spill.

The spill was reported late Wednesday afternoon, when owners of a nearby well noticed an oil slick on the muddy floodwaters in the floodplain southwest of Williston.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the state Division of Water Quality, said at least 20 barrels of oil — around 900 gallons — leaked at a well site owned by Ryan Exploration Inc., when a storage tank shifted in the floodwaters.

Well owner Tim Ryan of Denver said an aerial view of the well site Thursday afternoon relieved his worst fears.

“We saw a couple of questionable spots, but my nightmare was that we would see one big slick,” he said. He said he is com mitted to the cleanup, which could cost $500,000.

The spill is much smaller than one two weeks ago into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont. There, a ruptured crude oil pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons into the Yellowstone, which runs into the Missouri River a few miles south of Williston.

The Ryan well was among 40 or so on the low-lying floodplain between Williston and Trenton that were shut in by order of state officials when the Missouri River started rising in May.

Some companies emptied storage tanks of oil and refilled them with water to hold them down and prevent them from bobbing in the high water.

Ryan said the two oil storage tanks at the well site were not emptied of oil, possibly because rising water came too fast. The one that bobbed and apparently broke a connecting pipe contained

68 barrels before the spill and the other has 200 barrels and is apparently intact, he said. Two other tanks contain production water that comes up with oil.

Roberts said SM Energy, the company that discovered spill, immediately went to work to start cleanup and containment of the oil. “They really stepped up and it’s not their well,” he said.

By Thursday afternoon, Ryan’s crews and contractors had added a rigid ring and two more absorbent booms around the storage tanks. Oily absorbent pads were stored onshore in green barrel drums that will be sealed and hauled for disposal.

“We dodged a bullet,” Roberts said. “I didn’t see anything big enough to give me heartburn.”

He said the floodwaters will have to recede before the situation can be fully investigated.

Roberts said he didn’t know how many storage tanks at other flooded wells are still holding oil.

Ryan said he bought the 30-year-old well a decade ago, along with one other nearby. He said the well, a stripper well because of its age and low production, only produces 6 barrels a day, but hopes to use it to get into deeper, more lucrative formations.

He said it remains to be seen whether the tank leaked only 20 barrels or if more will leak before the pipe can be fixed.

Right now, the whole site is underwater for miles.

“Clearly, I should have been more prepared, but it didn’t occur to me that the water would go over our

10-foot (containment) dike,” Ryan said. “When I heard this, I felt terrible. I don’t think I slept an hour last night.”

Williams County Emergency Manager Mike Hallesy said the incident stresses the potential of what could occur in the oil patch.

Roberts said the spill into the river has been reported to both federal and state regulatory officials, and that Gov. Jack Dalrymple was briefed.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or lauren@westriv.com.)

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. Old Timer
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    Old Timer - July 15, 2011 11:23 pm
    If you think things look bad from where you're at, you should spend a little time in the western half of the state and really look things over. Practically everyone is in bed with the oil companies and few will speak the truth or even let the truth be told, including the newspapers. If I want to find out what's actually going on, I have to read an outside paper like the Tribune.
    It's really sad. Lifelong friends and neighbors are selling each other out over the location of a rig, or a few mineral acres. It's far worse than dog eat dog. I don't even recognize this place or the people anymore.
  2. Bill G-A-R-R
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    Bill G-A-R-R - July 15, 2011 9:22 pm
    Spill Baby Spill! Art Link is rolling over in his grave. North Dakota's 3 greatest assets are no more: North Dakota's air, North Dakota's fishing and North Dakota's aquifers.

    Saruman is smiling atop his mighty tower, Isengard.
  3. Reason
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    Reason - July 15, 2011 3:30 pm
    Well, I was going to suggest a new column called "Spill of the Week" but, it looks like we're going to have to call it "Spill of the Day."
  4. BabyT
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    BabyT - July 15, 2011 2:45 pm
    RockNDBakken said: "Baby T...out of the THOUSANDS of wells in N.D., this is pretty minor. Any oil in the Missouri is not good. Slow news days will always bring out tidbits like this. With 40 more wells in the flood plain we can expect more bad news like this. At least the Corps tried to warn people of the possibilities of flooding of these properties."

    My comment was more sarcasm regarding the whole situation of oil spills in ND. As H20 educator mentioned, 2 to 10 spills are reported DAILY. Yes, most very minor, but the sad state of affairs is that spills are very common. With the oil boom there are going to be drawbacks, and pristine ND land and water is one of those prices that will be paid.

    Think of the news in a major city in the US. There might be a couple murders per day, and all of course very serious, but the populace has become so used to it that very few are reported in the news media.
  5. H2OEduc8tr
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    H2OEduc8tr - July 15, 2011 1:54 pm
    From 2 to 10 spills are reported daily - Sorry Rockin' no spill is minor and none are accidents - they could be prevented by slowing down and paying attention...the two things they don't get paid to do.
  6. Energy Efficiency
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    Energy Efficiency - July 15, 2011 1:18 pm
    Western North Dakota - turning into an "oil wasteland." Who would have guessed this would eventually happen? This was predictable since the first oil well was established in N.D. It's amazing what money and greed does to people and the environment.
  7. Report Abuse
    - July 15, 2011 12:36 pm
    Tim308 said: "As an aside, anyone know if there is a "report" or statistics available for how much oil is reported as spilled in ND? It sounds like these spills are getting more and more common it would be interesting to see what the total amount of spilled oil is reported in ND a year. I'd be willing to bet it's way way more than the average ND resident thinks it is."

    YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!! ::best Jack Nicholson impersonation::

    We seem to be seeing about one spill/blow-out/leak a month in the press. That will likely increase as the number of drilling rigs and wells increases.

    But that's just the conspicuous ones which are reported.

    I suspect most of the leaks, mostly minor ones, are going unreported.

    I know that there are many companies which make a business of spills and leaks, and hundreds of patented devices and techniques for casing failures, suggesting it's a very common problem.

    On the good side, the companies do try to minimize this without someone to police them and make them do it, as spilled oil = lost money.


  8. RockNDBakken
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    RockNDBakken - July 15, 2011 12:15 pm
    Baby T...out of the THOUSANDS of wells in N.D., this is pretty minor. Any oil in the Missouri is not good. Slow news days will always bring out tidbits like this. With 40 more wells in the flood plain we can expect more bad news like this. At least the Corps tried to warn people of the possibilities of flooding of these properties.
  9. Tim308
    Report Abuse
    Tim308 - July 15, 2011 11:12 am
    As an aside, anyone know if there is a "report" or statistics available for how much oil is reported as spilled in ND? It sounds like these spills are getting more and more common it would be interesting to see what the total amount of spilled oil is reported in ND a year.

    I'd be willing to bet it's way way more than the average ND resident thinks it is.
  10. BabyT
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    BabyT - July 15, 2011 7:48 am
    These are so common now, are they even worth reporting? Kind of like high gas prices in Bis/Man.

  11. sanchez
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    sanchez - July 15, 2011 7:15 am
    Who would have thought?
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