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Published December 10, 2013, 09:14 PM

Nearly 30,000-gallon saltwater spill near Medora contained, official says

A spill detected Sunday morning released nearly 30,000 gallons of saltwater and 20 barrels of oil near a tributary of the Little Missouri River in Billings County, according to an official with the North Dakota Department of Health.

By: Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service

MEDORA, N.D. -- A spill detected Sunday morning released nearly 30,000 gallons of saltwater and 20 barrels of oil near a tributary of the Little Missouri River in Billings County, according to an official with the North Dakota Department of Health.

“We understand the spill probably happened sometime Dec. 7 because it was discovered at about 8 a.m. the following day,” Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the Health Department, said Tuesday. “Everything has been contained. The draw that it went into leads to an unnamed intermittent creek. We had an inspector there (Monday) and he was on his way back today to find out if there was any water beyond where they’re working.”

The spill — from a tank at a well site operated by Midland, Texas-based company BTA Oil Producers — occurred about 15 miles northwest of Medora. A chemical cocktail byproduct of the hydraulic fracturing process commonly used in Bakken oil exploration and production procedures, the saltwater leak is believed to have occurred about four miles from the iconic river, Roberts said.

“I can say with 95 percent confidence that this will not reach the Little Missouri River,” Roberts said. “What we’ve got here is this went down a drainage, got into an intermittent creek and did not move more than a quarter-mile. What we’re saying is that this is contained and they have cleanup contractors on-site working on this until they get the job done, and we will be following until we are satisfied there is no longer any risk to the environment and public health.”

Roberts said his understanding is that the release occurred due to a malfunctioning tank and added that the well site sits on federal land, meaning the U.S. Forest Service is assisting with oversight and cleanup.

Close to 650 barrels of saltwater is believed to have been spilled at the site, which sits several miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Eileen Andes, a spokeswoman for the park, said she was aware of the spill, but that park officials would have no comment because it didn’t occur within its boundaries.

Phone messages left Tuesday afternoon for Billings County emergency manager Pat Rummel and an executive with BTA were not immediately returned.

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