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Effort to extinguish oil well fire ongoing as officials wait to assess damage
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Effort to extinguish oil well fire ongoing as officials wait to assess damage

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Fire Dakota Prairie Grasslands

A fire broke out July 22 at an oil well site in McKenzie County.

The company operating an oil well pad in McKenzie County where a fire broke out last Thursday has brought in a specialized emergency response crew to try to rein in the blaze, as state officials wait for the fire to be extinguished so they can better assess the damage.

Petro-Hunt, the operator of the well pad, is working with Texas-based Wild Well Control to assist with the situation. Wild Well has worked to resolve well-control events for 45 years and maintains equipment in a number of locations worldwide that it can move quickly to the site of an emergency, according to the company’s website.

“They can come in and know how to analyze or diagnose the problem and get to it,” said Dave Glatt, director of the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

The cause of the fire is unknown, according to statements this week from Petro-Hunt and various state officials. It has burned for six days, sending clouds of black smoke into the air and prompting state environmental officials to encourage nearby residents to monitor their local air quality at www.airnow.gov. People sensitive to poor air quality should reduce their time outdoors and contact their health care provider if they experience trouble breathing, the agency said.

Air quality is already poor in parts of North Dakota due to wildfire smoke drifting over the state from the western United States and Canada.

The cause of the well fire is under investigation, and officials do not know what exactly is on fire at the site, Glatt said.

“Once the fire is put out, then we will have access to the site and have a better feel for what burned and how much contamination there will be,” he said.

Petro-Hunt initially reported to the state that an estimated 100 barrels of oil and 100 barrels of saltwater spilled at the site. Those amounts are equal to 4,200 gallons each.

The true volume of the spills is not yet known, Glatt said.

“It’s kind of in the heat of battle,” he said. “We always look at those (estimates) with a wary eye. We don’t take those verbatim until we can get the site under control. I fully expect those numbers will change.”

A berm has been built around the well pad to contain any fluids.

The fire is contained to the well pad, and it has not resulted in any injuries, Petro-Hunt said earlier this week.

Environmental Quality is among several state and local agencies responding to the situation. The agency could issue a penalty related to the incident down the road, but officials “need to know the facts before we would make that determination,” Glatt said.

It will take several weeks to sort out the details of what happened at the site, and any future action the department might take would depend on factors such as the cleanup effort and whether the incident was the result of negligence or an accident such as equipment breaking, he said.

The well pad is located just south of Lake Sakakawea near Keene northeast of Watford City. The site is on federal land within the U.S. Forest Service’s McKenzie Ranger District.

McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karolin Jappe said authorities have closed roads in the area and are asking people to avoid driving or boating near the fire so as not to interfere with the response.

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

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