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    Land, Spills & Environment

    Quick Facts:

    76% of all spills take place on a specially engineered and built well pad that prevents any environmental impact.

    These sites include berms that prevent fluids from leaving the site and multiple layers of liners and clay that protect the land below it. That means that any spills are quickly and easily cleaned up with no environmental impact to the land around or below it.


    99% of all spills are resolved within the field within 30 to 180 days

    The remaining 1% is cleaned up, but may be delayed due to weather or other factors. All spills, however, are required to be cleaned up whether on or off site, and all spills are cleaned up at the responsible party’s expense. North Dakota law requires that the remediation job must be approved by both the landowner and the regulators.  If an issue should arise from that site in the future, the Department of Health still holds the company liable for clean-up and remediation of that site.


    Production has gone up substantially while the volume of fluids spilled has decreased in recent years.

    According to research by the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center, only about .005 percent of the total oil produced was released while .01 percent of the brine produced was released. To put this into perspective, this would be about the equivalent of a mere half of one cup of water being spilled from a typical Olympic-sized pool.

    spills graph


    Spills cost the company hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars – so nobody wants to see them happen.

    Even a very small spill can cost a company upwards of $50,000 to clean up with larger spills exceeding $1 million. Especially when prices are low, this is a huge deterrent to companies. It also impacts relationships with landowners and regulators, so millions are spent on researching spill prevention and remediation. Industry is currently working with North Dakota’s universities to research the latest technologies and processes that will help recover our resources even more responsibly.


    Spill protections and response

    The industry adheres to strict regulatory standards as well as strict “Best Practices” to ensure environmentally responsible development. Well pads are built using several of layers of clay and liners to protect the soil and water resources below it. Likewise, liquid petroleum and natural gas transported by pipeline include protective barriers and monitoring systems, allowing products to safely reach their destination 99.999 percent of the time.

    Yet, accidents can happen, and if spills or releases can occur, there are many safeguards and methods in place that allow for accountability and remediation of an incident.


    How spills or releases are regulated?

    Any spills or releases are closely monitored and must be reported immediately by the responsible party. Releases that occur on a well site, called contained releases, must be reported to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources and North Dakota Department of Health. Releases that occur off-site, whether by a pipeline or truck, must be reported to the North Dakota Department of Health and the Department of Mineral Resources. Other stakeholders, including local leaders or the public are also encouraged to report any suspected releases.


    Reporting Spills:

    North Dakota Department of Emergency Services: 24-hour hotline, 1-800-475-2121

    North Dakota Department of Health: 701-328-5210 or 701-328-5166

    North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources: 701-328-8020 or www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas/mvc/wincident


    The oil industry’s accountability and commitment to the land

    Immediately following a spill or release, work begins on reclamation, which may be accomplished using two different methods: in situ remediation or excavation.



    Excavation has been the most common method of remediating a release because it was the quickest way to return land to production. Excavation involves removing the contaminated soil and hauling it to a special waste landfill to be disposed. New topsoil is brought in from another site and the process of reclamation begins. Excavation is being used less in favor of in situ remediation.


    In situ remediation

    In situ—which means “in its original place”—remediation is a method that allows for the breakdown or removal of hydrocarbons or brine using organisms or plants more tolerant of saline conditions.

    For releases of oil or hydrocarbons, this involves removing any standing liquids and installing erosion controls if needed. Soil samples from nearby unaffected areas are collected, as well as any other background information. Natural bacteria that consume contaminants as a food source are introduced to the site, thereby cleaning up the spill site. The site is periodically tilled and soil samples are periodically assessed to ensure remediation success.

    The process for beginning the remediation of a salt water or brine spills is similar. Rather than introducing bacteria to the site, however, irrigation may be used to mobilize salt ions below the root zone and calcium may be applied to replace sodium. Halophytes, or plants more tolerant of saline conditions and extract salt from the soil, may be also be introduced to the site to remove and remediate incidences involving brine.

    Remediation Methods and How They Compare:

    Remediation Methods

    Just as advancements in technologies have changed the way oil is developed, so have the methods and ways land is remediated and reclaimed. Today, both industry and academia are working together to research soils and vegetation to better understand how different remediation methods and reseeding are affected by North Dakota’s topography and climate. Through an appropriation provided during the 2015 Legislative Session, work will also begin on researching and cleaning up releases that occurred prior to 1983, while another $1.5 million appropriation will go to the EERC to study and analyze pipeline standards, materials and devices to ensure the best and most recent technologies are available and being used to further prevent spills or releases from pipelines.

    Pipe spill

    Pipe spill remediated

    Sakakawea Area Spill Response

    With development also taking place around Lake Sakakawea, special precautions have also been taken to prevent releases into the lake. Precautions include ensuring sites are located away from natural drainage areas and building higher berms around well pads, among other safeguards.

    Even with these safeguards, the industry is committed to protecting and preserving this resource, and has proactively been working together to ensure they are prepared to respond to any incident that may affect the lake.

    Companies developing near the lake formed the Sakakawea Area Spill Response in 2011, purchasing equipment that is centrally stored near New Town. A team of environmental specialists from the participating companies frequently train and perform drills to respond in the unlikely event that a release into the lake should occur.


    Read more About this Issue:

    Spills Cleanup Primer, University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center. 

    Liquid Gathering Pipelines: A Comprehensive Analysis, University of Energy Environmental Research Center


    [1] https://www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas/rules/rulebook.pdf

    [2] http://bismarcktribune.com/bakken/breakout/on-borrowed-land-reclamation-in-the-oil-patch/article_fcf59e88-3cdc-11e4-a9ff-3fc3e386698b.html