The State Health Department’s spill investigation team was out in blustery conditions Monday and Tuesday, working to contain an oil pipeline spill that has impacted about 2.5 miles of the Ash Coulee Creek and a tributary creek in the badlands.
The spill, of so-far unknown volume, was detected Monday morning by a nearby landowner. Spill investigation program manager Bill Suess said containment booms at five locations were set up at the creek and a skimmer dam that catches oil on the water’s surface was established Tuesday. The spill location is about 16 miles northwest of Belfield.
The pipeline operator is Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., which has a record of 15 spills dating back to 2000, ranging from two barrels to 300 barrels in several oil patch counties, according to department records.
Following news of the spill, the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota, an organization that represents skilled construction workers including many working on the Dakota Access Pipeline, urged North Dakota state officials to provide stronger oversight of True Companies' pipelines, of which Belle Fourche is a part.
“We represent thousands of skilled men and women who are committed to building safe pipelines,” said spokesperson Evan Whiteford, a career pipeliner. "Our members take pride in their work, and we won’t just stand by and allow an irresponsible pipeline operator to harm North Dakota’s natural resources or damage reputation of our industry. We think it’s time for state officials to step in and force the True organization to clean up its act.”
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Suess said this spill occurred on a portion of above ground, 6-inch transmission pipe and it’s unclear what caused the breach, though nearby construction will be investigated as a possible cause.
He said the spill volume is significant, but the volume was unknown Tuesday since the oil pumping and recovery operation was just getting underway.
“We don’t think it was leaking real long. The landowner detected it fairly rapidly,” Suess said.
Ash Coulee Creek empties into the Little Missouri River, but with another 20 miles from the point of spill to the river, it didn’t appear likely it would extend that far. The creek is still flowing, he said.