An oil spill that happened back in December might have been three times larger than what was initially estimated making it one of the largest in state history, said a state environmental expert on Friday.
Over half a million gallons of oil is believed to have spilled from the Belle Fourche Pipeline, the pipeline was likely ruptured by a slumping hillside about 16 miles northwest of Belfied in Billings County, said Health Department Environmental scientist Bill Seuss. The previous estimate was about 176,000 gallons versus the current estimate of 530,000.
The spill occurred just about 150 miles from Cannon Ball, the same Cannon Ball where protesters allying with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe camped out in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline for months. Activists feared a spill could contaminate a lake that provides fresh drinking water and is also something Native Americans hold sacred. Protesters cleared out after President Trump approved the project.
On Friday Trump approved TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, another project greatly opposed by environmentalists.
No decisions have been made as to whether or not True Cos., the Wyoming-based company that operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, will be fined for the spill. The company stated that it is committed to cleaning up the oil spill, adding that about 80% of the task is already completed.
“There’s no timeline for completion, spokeswoman Wendy Owen said. “We will be there until it is” done.
A company’s efforts to clean up an oil spill is greatly influential when decided how much a fine will be levied, said Seuss.
“We tend to hold off on those. It’s kind of a motivator,” he said.
An oil spill of about 840,000 gallons is the largest spill to occur in North Dakota, it happened back in September 2013.
An unknown amount of of oil flowed into Ash Coulee Creek in the December spill, which feeds into Little Missouri River, a tributary of the Missouri River. Despite no oil having made it into either of the rivers or any source of drinking water, according to Seuss, they plan to clean up the creek before grazing season, since cattle drink from the waterway.
No cases of livestock or wildlife deaths have been confirmed in relation to the spill. Although one rancher did report some cattle deaths, they refused to allow the state veterinarian to do a necropsy, said Seuss. Cleanup crews did find a dead beaver, but the cause of death was unknown.
The pipeline started leaking after being restarted on December first, after routine maintenance, said Seuss. A local landowner discovered the spill on December 5th.
Oil continues to seep out of the hillside but it is being contained. Soil remediation could take at least a year, according to Seuss.
Article written by HEI contributor Lydia Ezeakor.