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ND regulators investigate oil company's failure to report spill

BISMARCK—An oil company failed to report a 19,740-gallon brine spill at a site in Bottineau County last month until after a landowner noticed and alerted health officials.

Great American Royalties Inc. filed a report on Monday, Oct. 9, about a tank that overflowed on Sept. 24 about 12 miles northwest of Maxbass, spilling 470 barrels of brine or saltwater, a waste byproduct of oil development.

"The company did not make a notification until they were told to," said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health.

Companies are required to provide a verbal notification to state regulators immediately after a spill is discovered and follow up with a written report within 24 hours, said Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division.

"When our offices contacted the company, the company had indicated that it was a non-reportable spill," Ritter said.

North Dakota lawmakers recently changed spill reporting requirements to exclude spills of less than 10 barrels, or 420 gallons, from being reported if they are contained on the well site. There was no change in reporting requirement for spills greater than 10 barrels.

When why the company didn't report the spill, Todd Ballantyne, president of Great American Royalties, said, "Because it was such a small spill and it was totally contained."

Whether the spill was contained is under investigation as well. Bottineau County landowner Daryl Peterson, who contacted health officials on behalf of his relatives, reported contamination that reached off-site.

Suess said health officials are testing soil samples to determine if the spill left the location.

The Oil and Gas Division is investigating the failure to report the spill and could issue fines of up to $12,500 a day, Ritter said. The health department could potentially issue additional fines, but not unless they confirm that the spill was not contained to the well site, Suess said.

Meanwhile, oil regulators continued to take public comments Thursday on proposed rule changes, including some that relate to reporting spills. Companies have testified against a proposal that would require a document known as a sundry notice filed for every spill that isn't reported, saying it goes against what legislators intended when they changed the reporting requirements.

Peterson was among landowners who testified about the proposed rules Thursday in Minot.

"One step further, in these new rules, is that I wish we'd be more diligent in enforcing these and all rules that are on the books," Peterson said. "Accidents can happen, but negligence, there should be no tolerance for negligence."