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Huge ND Wastewater Spill Prompts Calls For Fracking Regs

Beaver dams have so far prevented about 1 million gallons of fracking wastewater discovered spilled July 8 from a rural North Dakota pipeline from spreading too far. But area residents, environmentalists and even a Republican state legislator all want more reliable measures.

The spill of the toxic saltwater, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, came from gas extraction operations at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and occurred days before it was discovered.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency said the underground pipeline spilled about 24,000 barrels, or 1 million gallon, in North Dakota’s thriving oil and gas region. The water, which can be 10 times saltier than seawater and contains salt and fossil fuel condensates, was being piped away from fuel extraction sites for safe disposal.

The spill has been threatening Bear Den Bay on nearby Lake Sakakawea, which provides water for the reservation occupied by the Arikara, Hidasta and Mandan tribes, though the EPA said there is no evidence that the lake has been contaminated.

In fact, it said, most of the saltwater had pooled near where it had spilled and that beaver dams in the area had kept it from spreading. As a result, the EPA said, the local soil has simply been absorbing the spill.

That’s a bit too fortuitous for Wayde Schafer, a spokesman for the Sierra Club in North Dakota. He said there have been four other spills in the region recently, including three caused by lightning strikes and a fourth attributed to a cow that rubbed against a tank valve.

Related Article: 5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Fracking

With its current oil and gas boom, North Dakota has become the second most productive energy state behind Texas. By relying greatly on fracking, though, it also produces millions of barrels of wastewater daily that, like nuclear waste, must be buried underground forever.

In 2013 alone, there were 74 pipeline leaks that spilled 22,000 barrels of saltwater. Yet that same year, the North Dakota Legislature voted 86 to 4 against a bill that would have mandated flow meters and cutoff switches on wastewater-disposal pipelines. Energy companies protested the cost of such measures, and even state regulators argued they wouldn’t detect small leaks.

State Rep. Dick Anderson, a Republican farmer from Willow City, about 140 miles northeast of Lake Sakakawea, wants the legislature to reconsider the bill. He said a revised bill should require energy companies to conduct more frequent examination of the wastewater pipelines, including dogs trained to sniff for spills and even aerial drones that can spot pipeline breaks.

Arrow Pipeline LLC, which owns the pipeline whose spill has been threatening Lake Sakakawea, said the accident wasn’t discovered until employees were reviewing reports on production losses.

Crestwood Midstream Partners LP of Houston, which owns Arrow Pipeline, said the cleanup is likely to last for weeks.

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com



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  • secretssquirrel on July 17 2014 said:
    These companies make so much money, refuse the cost of proper technology to discover leaks, and are killing the land, and possibly people. Where will we grow food? Have you ever seen what salt does to plants? It kills them; and nothing else will grow. These companies could at least follow the suggestions implied here in this article and in FC's comments above, if we are to allow fracking, which shouldn't be happening. And there is no mention of the bleach used in this process. Just the amount of water needed for this process alone is unrealistic, and while we are experiencing droughts. These people will make their money and buy their food, and probably live elsewhere later. If they had any ties to community they would see that they are destroying peoples' livelihoods and their futures.
  • tj on July 16 2014 said:
    Western ND is beautiful..too bad big oil has been allowed to destroy it. The politicians love the money, but the next generation is going to pay a heavy price for poisoned water and the destruction of the beauty.
  • Richard Head on July 15 2014 said:
    Never be usable as cropland after spill. Have had many on our Texas ranch, no way to ever get the dirt to grow anything.
  • FC on July 15 2014 said:
    Non-Invasive flow sensor technology has existed for decades where flow meters could be strapped to the outside of the pipes. I am sure they could be powered with low voltage UPS sources and solar panels to keep them charged. Salt water is an ideal fluid for strong signal sensing. A flow meter every 1/2 mile or so, maybe every 1/4 mile maybe every mile. Not sure of the ideal spacing.

    With today's wireless technology, remote cameras can also be installed to monitor the pipeline from start to finish.

    Even with large flow rates, continuous remote wireless monitoring with some automatic analysis could distinguish a leak from flow differences even if the signals were noisy. Then you might send a drone out to view the suspected area.

    For the $s the industry is getting for all the production, this would be an insignificant cost yet would save a lot and protect more.

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