WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published March 28, 2011, 02:42 PM

Soil, Water From ND Oil Well Fire Area Tested

Intense heat from an oil well fire that was aflame for a dozen days in northwest North Dakota likely burned most of the crude and other liquids that could have escaped the site, a state health official said Monday.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Intense heat from an oil well fire that was aflame for a dozen days in northwest North Dakota likely burned most of the crude and other liquids that could have escaped the site, a state health official said Monday.

"That is the speculation at this time," said Dennis Fewless, director of water quality for the state Health Department. "What we're finding is that almost everything volatilized off."

Fewless said soil and water samples from a 30-acre area beyond the oil well blaze near the town of Arnegard are being tested. The fire started March 7 and was extinguished March 18. No one was hurt.

Initial tests have shown no environmental damage from the burning well, Fewless said. The fire created a mist that covered and discolored snow well beyond the well site. Elevated levels of aluminum and chloride have been detected in snowmelt but not enough to pose a health risk, he said.

Traces of aluminum likely came from burning equipment at the well site, while the chloride particles are probably the result of vaporized saltwater, a byproduct of oil production, Fewless said.

The Health Department is monitoring soil samples taken by the well's owner, SM Energy Co. of Denver. The samples are being analyzed at a laboratory in Montana, and results could be ready within a week, Fewless said.

SM Energy officials did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages Monday seeking comment.

The company had estimated the well was pumping 1,000 to 2,000 barrels of oil daily until well fire specialists from Houston-based Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. stopped the fire and capped the well head.

Terry O'Clair, the state Health Department's air quality director, said smoke and soot from the burning well was not detected by instruments that monitor air quality about 20 miles away at the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

"We didn't see any elevated pollution levels during that time," O'Clair said.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, has said a hot engine from a pump truck likely ignited hydraulic fracturing fluid from the well.

SM Energy said earlier that the company intends to reopen the well but rebuilding it could take weeks.

Tags: