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Contaminated soil at a saltwater spill site in Bottineau County during the 1980s has nearly doubled in size as contaminants spread, according to Brent Brannan, program director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Research Program. 

The scope of a pilot soil remediation project approved last fall by state regulators was scaled back Monday following concerns that the $500,000 allocated by the Legislature would not be enough.

The high water table in the project area has allowed the salt to migrate, according to Brannan. Saltwater brine, a byproduct of oil and natural gas production, is many times saltier than seawater.

North Dakota Industrial Commission members unanimously approved the scaling back of the soil remediation pilot project by the Energy and Environmental Research Center.

Because of low oil prices, an operator that has wells at the project site recently closed them off, eliminating the ability to dispose of saltwater inexpensively. These factors weren't known at the time the project began and will result in a higher cost, according to Brennan.

The project originally was planned to continue through June 2017. It was to take place at the Wiley Field area in Bottineau County, near Renville with the test area to include two 1.5-acre sites and a one half-acre site. The intent was to utilize multiple methods in an attempt at remediation of soil around old oil drilling saltwater pits.

“It was going to cost far more,” said Brannan, who estimated the cost would be double or triple what originally was approved.

“All in all, a lot of things learned,” he said of the initial project work.

The EERC is proposing further testing, including soil permeability. From there, a report would be provided to the Industrial Commission, including cost estimates for full-scale remediation in the area.

Funding for the project came from legislation passed last session. Numerous spills have occurred over the years, including a few large ones in the past decade of more than 1 million gallons.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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