N.D. Saltwater Spill Prompts Questions

The Associated Press
Friday, February 2, 2007; 3:24 AM

ALEXANDER, N.D. -- A year after a ruptured pipeline spilled nearly 1 million gallons of saltwater into a northwestern North Dakota creek, Ned Hermanson is giving up.

He intends to move his 400 cows to pastures far from the oil fields here, away from one of the biggest environmental disasters in state history.

"I live day-to-day next to a neighbor that's an oil company, and they're a bad neighbor," said Hermanson, a wiry man who dips tobacco and wears a softball-sized rodeo belt buckle. "Life is too short to be mad every day at them, so I'm leaving."

Officials say the plight faced by Hermanson and a dozen ranchers affected by the spill shows the need to pay more attention to wastewater pipelines nationwide.

Nathan Wiser, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency in Denver, said there are no specific federal regulations for saltwater disposal lines.

"Standards don't exist," he said. "It makes sense to have better monitoring of these things and regulate them more tightly."

The spill near Alexander has been described as the worst in North Dakota's oil history. The saltwater, a byproduct of oil production, flooded a stock pond and a beaver dam, and flowed into Charbonneau Creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone River.

The spill _ made up of water 10 times as salty as seawater _ caused a massive die-off of fish, turtles and plants along the creek. Officials said no human drinking water sources were affected.

The 18-mile-long pipeline that ruptured is just a fraction of the "perhaps hundreds of thousands of miles" of similar pipelines in the U.S., Wiser said.

Oil companies often don't have adequate monitoring for the pipelines because they aren't required to do so, Wiser said.

"Wastewater pipelines are not given the same level attention as oil pipelines," he said. "You can bet your bottom dollar they monitor oil _ because it's worth money and it's their life blood."

Keith Hill, an operations manager for pipeline owner Zenergy Inc., said the company has spent about $1.8 million so far on the cleanup, which could take years to complete.

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