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Oil company comes forward after discovering five unreported spills

Oil company comes forward after discovering five unreported spills

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A Bakken oil company is reiterating its policies on spill reporting after discovering last week that former employees failed to report five spills in northwest North Dakota dating back to October.

Management of Zavanna recently learned about three spills that occurred at the same saltwater disposal well last year and two spills that occurred at different sites in January, said Cody Duran, vice president of operations.

All of the spills were in Williams County and involved produced water or brine, a waste byproduct of oil production. Most of the contamination stayed on well facility locations, but, in one instance, a spill killed a strip of grass adjacent to the well pad, Duran said.

Zavanna recently fired three employees, and a new production supervisor brought the spills to management’s attention, Duran said.

The new supervisor, who was involved with cleaning up the spills, said he suspected the incidents hadn’t been reported because he had never been required to follow up with inspectors, according to Duran.

Once management of the Denver-based company learned of the unreported spills, the company inspected the sites and notified the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the North Dakota Department of Health and the Bureau of Land Management, Duran said.

The company also is reaching out to landowners.

“We’re just trying to get back in good standing and do what’s right,” said Duran, who contacted the Bismarck Tribune about the spills Monday.

The Oil and Gas Division has had inspectors visit all five sites, said spokeswoman Katie Haarsager. Preliminary spill reports were filed on Monday.

The one brine spill that got off site occurred on Jan. 10 at the Sabertooth 1-24H well involving 800 barrels, or 33,600 gallons. A portion of the spill contaminated a strip of land between the well pad and a county road that will need to be remediated, Duran said.

Three brine spills occurred at the Guchun 1 saltwater disposal well, estimated in mid-October, mid-November and mid-December, Duran said. All three were caused by the same equipment failure.

The November spill involved 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons. According to the company’s rough estimates, the October and December spill volumes were about half that size, though Duran said they’re still investigating.

The three spills were contained to the well pad, which has extensive salt staining, Duran said.

Zavanna plans to do further assessment of the Guchun and Sabertooth well sites and is working with a remediation company, Duran said.

In addition, an estimated 75 barrels, or 3,150 gallons, of brine spilled on Jan. 9 at the Leopard 20-17 1H well.

North Dakota regulators require companies to verbally report spills immediately and file a written spill report within 24 hours.

Zavanna management met with employees last week to reiterate the company’s expectation that all spills be reported and reissued contact information for regulators, Duran said. The people who failed to report the spills no longer work for Zavanna.

“We’re working to make it right moving forward,” Duran said.

The Industrial Commission could issue a fine of up to $12,500 a day for failing to report the spills. A representative from the Oil and Gas Division was unavailable for an interview Monday.

Great American Royalties fine

The Industrial Commission recently settled a complaint against Great American Royalties for failing to report a spill last fall in Bottineau County. In that case, regulators first learned about the spill of 470 barrels, or 19,740 gallons, from a landowner.

A consent agreement shows regulators proposed a fine of $12,600 but agreed to settle the case for a $3,150 fine with $9,450, or 75 percent, suspended with the condition that the company have no similar violations for three years.

The company also paid $144 to reimburse the state for investigating.

The Industrial Commission found that the failure to report the spill did not cause a serious threat of pollution or injury to public health or safety, according to the agreement. The parties entered into the agreement to avoid the expense of litigation, the document states.

Great American Royalties reported the spill 15 days after it occurred after being directed to do so by regulators. The maximum amount the commission can fine is $12,500 per violation per day, which in this case could have been as high as $187,500.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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