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Saltwater leaks from Burke County well abandoned in 1980s

Saltwater leaks from Burke County well abandoned in 1980s

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A saltwater spill occurred last week from a disposal well abandoned in the 1980s at a gas plant in Burke County, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality reported Monday.

The Alberta-based company Steel Reef estimates that 1,980 barrels of saltwater leaked from the well at its Lignite Gas Plant about a mile east of the town of Lignite, according to the department. The amount is equal to about 83,000 gallons. The company first reported the leak to the state on Nov. 24, but the volume of the fluid spilled was unknown at the time.

Most of the liquid leaked into surrounding farmland, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the department.

The well was plugged and capped in the 1980s, and Suess was not aware of any past problems at the site. He said the saltwater that leaked came up through a threaded fitting.

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division is investigating the cause of the spill. Leaks from abandoned saltwater disposal wells are not common, spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said.

The saltwater that spilled appeared to be a mixture of naturally occurring water in the Dakota rock formation and brine from oil and gas development decades ago, Suess said. Its salt content is less than what’s typically considered brine or “produced water" within the oil and gas industry.

Brine comes up alongside oil and gas at well sites, and it’s typically injected back underground for permanent storage. It can render farmland infertile when it spills.

Steel Reef said it's working with state regulators as it responds to the incident.

"The company initiated its response plan to ensure the protection of nearby residents and the environment, stopped the release and contained the site," spokeswoman Andrée Morier said in a statement.

Environmental Quality continues to monitor cleanup at the site.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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