BELFIELD, N.D. – Crews at the Belle Fourche Pipeline spill near Belfield are doing tests to see if burning the spilled oil will be a viable cleanup option.

Contractors were working Thursday, Dec. 15, in coordination with the North Dakota Department of Health to isolate an area and attempt to burn some of the oil that has contaminated Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager.

“We will be on site for the burn and we’ll evaluate its effectiveness to see if it’s something we can use on larger sections of the creek,” Suess said.

The pipeline spill discovered by a landowner on Dec. 5 released an estimated 4,200 barrels, or 176,400 gallons, about 16 miles northwest of Belfield, contaminating a hillside and nearly 5½ miles of the creek.

Cleanup crews have been working since Dec. 5 and had recovered 1,256 barrels, or 52,752 gallons, as of Wednesday night, said Wendy Owen, spokeswoman for True Companies, which owns the pipeline.

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A test burn on Thursday went well, Suess said, with crews able to ignite oil on the creek without adding any accelerants.

Crews collected samples to test how thoroughly the method worked. Results are expected to be available early next week to help determine if the method should be used on a larger scale, Suess said.

The process will have oversight by the Department of Health’s Air Quality Division, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies that are involved with the spill investigation and cleanup.

Suess said he has seen open burning used to recover oil from stock ponds and smaller bodies of water as well as on land, particularly to prevent spilled oil from reaching water bodies.

“This will be very interesting to see how it works,” he said.

Meanwhile, crews have yet to access the slumping hillside where the pipeline break occurred due to unstable conditions. A geotechnical evaluation is expected next week, Suess said.

The number of contractors on site responding to the spill was estimated to be about 135 as of mid-week, Owen said.

“The cold temperature continues to be an issue out there,” Owen said. “They’re still working, they’re still recovering oil, they’re still cleaning up the environment.