Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Oil spill hits the Missouri River south of Williston

  • 0
Williston oil spill

This oil well in the Hardscrabble Oil Field south of Williston was shut in because of floodwaters, but oil stored in a tank at the well leaked into the flooded Missouri River on Wednesday. The incident remains under investigation, but it appears the spill might involve 20 barrels. By Thursday, the well was surrounded by rings of rigid plastic and absorbent booms.

TRENTON — An obviously shaken owner of the oil well that caused the first oil spill directly into the Missouri River in North Dakota said he wants to do the right thing and clean up any effects of the spill.

The spill was reported late Wednesday afternoon, when owners of a nearby well noticed an oil slick on the muddy floodwaters in the floodplain southwest of Williston.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the state Division of Water Quality, said at least 20 barrels of oil — around 900 gallons — leaked at a well site owned by Ryan Exploration Inc., when a storage tank shifted in the floodwaters.

Well owner Tim Ryan of Denver said an aerial view of the well site Thursday afternoon relieved his worst fears.

“We saw a couple of questionable spots, but my nightmare was that we would see one big slick,” he said. He said he is com mitted to the cleanup, which could cost $500,000.

The spill is much smaller than one two weeks ago into the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont. There, a ruptured crude oil pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons into the Yellowstone, which runs into the Missouri River a few miles south of Williston.

The Ryan well was among 40 or so on the low-lying floodplain between Williston and Trenton that were shut in by order of state officials when the Missouri River started rising in May.

Some companies emptied storage tanks of oil and refilled them with water to hold them down and prevent them from bobbing in the high water.

Ryan said the two oil storage tanks at the well site were not emptied of oil, possibly because rising water came too fast. The one that bobbed and apparently broke a connecting pipe contained

68 barrels before the spill and the other has 200 barrels and is apparently intact, he said. Two other tanks contain production water that comes up with oil.

Roberts said SM Energy, the company that discovered spill, immediately went to work to start cleanup and containment of the oil. “They really stepped up and it’s not their well,” he said.

By Thursday afternoon, Ryan’s crews and contractors had added a rigid ring and two more absorbent booms around the storage tanks. Oily absorbent pads were stored onshore in green barrel drums that will be sealed and hauled for disposal.

“We dodged a bullet,” Roberts said. “I didn’t see anything big enough to give me heartburn.”

He said the floodwaters will have to recede before the situation can be fully investigated.

Roberts said he didn’t know how many storage tanks at other flooded wells are still holding oil.

Ryan said he bought the 30-year-old well a decade ago, along with one other nearby. He said the well, a stripper well because of its age and low production, only produces 6 barrels a day, but hopes to use it to get into deeper, more lucrative formations.

He said it remains to be seen whether the tank leaked only 20 barrels or if more will leak before the pipe can be fixed.

Right now, the whole site is underwater for miles.

“Clearly, I should have been more prepared, but it didn’t occur to me that the water would go over our

10-foot (containment) dike,” Ryan said. “When I heard this, I felt terrible. I don’t think I slept an hour last night.”

Williams County Emergency Manager Mike Hallesy said the incident stresses the potential of what could occur in the oil patch.

Roberts said the spill into the river has been reported to both federal and state regulatory officials, and that Gov. Jack Dalrymple was briefed.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News