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Company faces fine for failing to report ND oilfield spill

A western North Dakota oil well Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK—A company that failed to report a brine spill last fall in Bottineau County is facing a potential fine from the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

A complaint alleges Great American Royalties violated state regulations that govern the oil industry by failing to report a Sept. 24 produced water spill estimated to be 470 barrels, or 19,740 gallons.

Regulators first learned of the spill from a landowner, and the company then filed a spill report on Oct. 9. State regulations require companies to provide a verbal notification to regulators immediately after a spill is discovered and file a written report within 24 hours.

In this case, the company did not report the spill until after contacted by regulators, the North Dakota Department of Health said last fall.

The spill at a saltwater disposal well about 12 miles northwest of Maxbass was caused by a tank that overflowed. Saltwater, or brine, is a waste byproduct of oil production.

The complaint from the Industrial Commission requests a fine in an amount to be determined at an administrative hearing, in addition to reimbursement for $144 in costs to investigate the matter.

The maximum fine the agency can impose is $12,500 per violation per day. In this case, the spill was reported 15 days late, which could mean a penalty of up to $187,500.

In a legal response, Great American Royalties denied the Industrial Commission's allegations.

Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health, said his agency is still testing soil samples to determine if the spill left the well site location.

Suess said there was contamination outside of the saltwater disposal well location, but it may be from a previous spill. Either way, the company is responsible for cleaning it up, Suess said.

Notes from a health department inspector who visited the site on Oct. 12 say the dike appeared to have been recently rebuilt and showed evidence of water seeping through. The notes indicated there was no sign of cleanup work done at that time. The inspector also noted the area to the north lacks vegetation, but it was hard to discern the cause, according to the health department's spill database.

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