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Big One? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jill Denning Gackle (BHG News Service)   
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 09:08


Agencies make plans for potential big spill

(Reprinted with permission from BHG News Service and Jill Denning Gackle)

A fresh water tank near an oil drilling rig less than one mile from Lake Sakakawea ruptured in mid-June, spewing 374,000 gallons of water into and near Lake Sakakawea.

Fresh water into fresh water doesn't sound alarming, but Ryan Newman, lake manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said it's just a matter of time before a catastrophic oil spill impacts Lake Sakakawea.

“It's not a matter of if, it's when,” he said.

He said the goal of the oil industry partners – federal and state agencies – is to be prepared.

“Let's get organized for when the big one comes,” he said.

IMG_0783Wake up call

A spill in December at Van Hook was an eye opener for many in the region. More than 66,000 gallons of oil and brine misted over a stubble field. The ice covered lake was mostly spared because of the time of year and the winds were mild and headed the right direction.

“Fortunately there wasn't a lot of wind. We kept it largely confined to the pad and that field,” Newman said. He said if the spill had occurred between April 1 and Aug. 30, a prime piping plover nesting area would have had chicks, eggs or birds covered in an oil sheen. The endangered species of birds would have required a costly cleanup effort, Newman said.

“That spill opened a lot of eyes. If there is a diamond in the rough, it's that everyone became a lot more aware of what could happen,” he said.

“Industry experts say: start planning for it, it is going to happen. We need to start looking at this lake and work together.”

The fresh water spill June 12 near Mandaree was one of dozens of spills so far this year. In 2011 there were 1,100 spills statewide reported and last year there were 1,494 spills statewide reported, according to the Corps. Spills are any quantity of water, brine water, oil or anything that impacts soil or water, according to Alison Ritter of the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources.

Newman said the Corps isn't always made aware of spills. Eight days later someone notified the Corps about the June water spill.

“Somebody said, 'Oh, maybe we should call the Corps,' Newman said.

Since the spill was on private land, adjacent to Corps land, the violator is not legally required to call the Corps. But the water flowed “straight to the reservoir,” Newman said.

The Van Hook oil spill in December was learned by the Corps from TV news reports when pictures of the scene showed the lake in the background. Newman said, “I saw that and thought we gotta get over there.”

The Corps is working hard to be at the table with the state and federal agencies to be partners in preparing for the worst case scenario. He said the Corps needs to be intimately involved because they can be helpful with access and elevation information.

“Flowing water is far different than a reservoir. We can tell them where the boats and the pumper trucks can go in,” he said.  The EPA is currently working on a response plan in the event of major spill action, according to Newman.

Oil lines run under lake


Newman said the oil companies often avoid the volume of paperwork that is required to put a rig on federal land and instead place a rig just outside the Corps' boundary. Horizontal drilling creates 237 legs from the oil well snaking under Lake Sakakawea, buried at least two miles deep, according to the Corps' records mid-July. Today there are 13 lines 6-12 inches in diameter that convey crude oil, CO2, natural gas or gasoline across the lake, according to Newman. All of those 13 lines are in shallow trenches on the lake bed except for a gasoline line that is suspended on the Hwy. 23 New Town Bridge, Newman said.

The Corps promotes pipeline crossing corridors for the purpose of keeping pipelines grouped in the same region, Newman explained. He said spill detection and access to a spill will be easier.

Concerns have been raised about the age of some of the lines that run across Lake Sakakawea. He said Hess Corporation, the owner of many of the lines, is testing the walls' thickness and looking for anomalies, Newman said.

“They're doing their due diligence,” and finding that some of the lines are in good shape and some aren't. Some are gas lines that will be repurposed for oil, Newman said.

Beginning about three years ago the Corps started to require that all lines be bored 70-100 feet under the lake bed rather than just laid and sunk to rest on top of the lake bed.

Multiple requests come in, as often as weekly, to lay pipes on the lake bed or to drill on Corps property or to learn about how to drill on Corps property, he said. They say, “What's it take to get a line across Lake Sakakawea?” he said.
“Now the whole world's changed. We get requests weekly,” he said.

The change is disconcerting for some.

An industry expert who was a leader in the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska cleanup guided the Corps during a training exercise this spring, Newman said. He said, “Make sure you're organized. It will happen. We were like great, that's what we want to hear.” (The industry expert declined to be interviewed for this story.)

The result, though, is planning.

“Let's get organized for when the big one comes,” Newman said.

Ritter said the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources agreed. She said, “Obviously state leaders and emergency responders do know there is a potential threat. Being prepared is the most important thing. The state and the operators are taking steps to be prepared.”

A group of 10 oil companies formed Sakakawea Area Spill Response LLC to share equipment, training and resources in the event of a spill.

Ritter said preparation by the state and industry leaders will help to minimize the impact. Newman agreed and hoped she's right.

[Photos courtesy of Jill Denning Gackle, BHG News Service.]

[Chet's Note: In visiting with the reporter I learned that the aerial map/graphic in her story was obtained by BHG from the USACOE and is from late in 2012. I've taken the liberty of obtaining a current, similar graphic of the same area from the North Dakota GIS Hub (see below).  You might want to right-click on both the graphics, open them in "new tabs" and compare the two graphics. There are now significant more laterals under the lake.]


Comments (1)add comment

Anon said:

Everyone has just resigned themselves to the fact that oil is going to get into people's drinking water, so they better be prepared for when it does.

August 27, 2013
Votes: +3

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