New ND Oil Inspectors to Step Up OversightNorth Dakota's oil regulatory agency is hiring new field inspectors and other personnel to provide more frequent checks of oil and waste disposal wells in western North Dakota's oil-producing region, its director said Thursday.
By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's oil regulatory agency is hiring new field inspectors and other personnel to provide more frequent checks of oil and waste disposal wells in western North Dakota's oil-producing region, its director said Thursday.
The Department of Mineral Resources now has 14 employees who inspect oil facilities. With 176 drilling rigs operating and about 5,500 producing wells, the inspectors are able to check oil wells and other wells that are used to dispose of salt water waste every six months.
Lynn Helms, the agency's director, said three well inspectors and a technician who will check how companies are measuring their oil production should be hired before July 1. In the two years following, another seven field inspectors will be hired, he said.
Analysts believe by June 2013, the state will have more than 200 drilling rigs and about 10,000 producing wells. The increased staff will allow inspection of producing oil wells every two months, and inspections of salt water disposal wells monthly, Helms said.
Salt water is a byproduct of oil exploration in western North Dakota, and is often disposed of by injecting it back into the ground. Well sites have berms built around them to contain spills.
"Even a small spill of salt water can do permanent damage to the soil in North Dakota, so we have to make sure the operators are maintaining their dikes, that their piping is in good condition," Helms said.
Western North Dakota's rising oil production has been accompanied by some accidents, including an oil well fire in McKenzie County and an oil tank explosion and fire in Burke County. Both mishaps happened last March.
In 2006, a break in a salt water disposal pipeline resulted in a spill of almost 1 million gallons of brine near Alexander, which contaminated a nearby creek, killing fish and forcing ranchers to move their cattle.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Friday he had ordered state agencies to review safety and health standards that apply to the oil industry.
"Our regulation must keep pace with the improvements in technology and the growth of the industry," he said.