WILLISTON, N.D. – The same man affected a year ago by the state’s largest pipeline spill discovered Monday that land he rents is now the site of a new cleanup operation.
Williams County farmer Ron Sylte drove by a field where he grows durum to find crews excavating contaminated soil after a pipeline owned by Meadowlark Midstream leaked 187 barrels, or 7,854 gallons, of saltwater last week.
The spill occurred almost exactly a year after the same company, a subsidiary of Summit Midstream, discovered a spill of nearly 3 million gallons on land Sylte owns about 1½ miles north.
“I don’t see that they have a good pipe in the ground,” Sylte said. “If they don’t do something better than what they have, they’re going to have more of these.”
State regulators also are concerned to see a second leak on the same pipeline system a year later and are doing a thorough investigation, said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources.
“After the first failure, we increased our presence and monitoring and observation of the area, and we’ll probably want to take that up another notch,” Helms said Monday.
Sylte, who has been working with the company for a year as it continues to clean up last year’s spill near Blacktail Creek, said he didn’t learn about the latest spill until he saw crews in the field Monday. The spill occurred Thursday afternoon and was reported to state officials on Friday.
“I was just disappointed they didn’t call me last Friday,” said Sylte, who has farmed that land north of Williston since 1981. “At least let me know what’s going on.”
The company did notify the out-of-state landowner, Sylte said, but he didn’t know when.
Saltwater is a briny waste byproduct of oil development that is transported through pipelines to a disposal site.
In the latest spill, crews shut down the pipeline within 15 minutes of discovering a problem with the line, a Summit spokesman said. The quick detection was a result of investments in a SCADA system, which stands for supervisory control and data acquisition, that gathers information on the pipeline every five minutes to identify possible leaks and changes in pressure, the spokesman said.
A spill report says the Summit Operations Communications Center shut down the pipeline on Thursday after being notified through its leak detection system of a deviation in pipeline flow and pressure. Field staff then went to the area, walked the pipeline system and confirmed the pipeline leak at 3:36 p.m., the report states.
Helms said investigators have not yet verified that the pipeline was shut down within 15 minutes.
In last year’s spill, state regulators allege the pipeline had been leaking for more than three months before it was discovered. That spill remains under investigation by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the North Dakota Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Although the latest spill was discovered more quickly, that didn’t mean a lot to Sylte on Monday.
“It doesn’t really increase my faith in them at all,” Sylte said.
Cleanup crews were wrapping up the excavation work late Monday and beginning to haul contaminated soil to a landfill, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health.
The latest spill did not contaminate any surface water and so far officials have not detected groundwater contamination, Suess said.
After the excavation is complete and tests confirm that the contamination has been removed, crews will replace the soil that was removed. The land will be monitored for at least one year, if not longer, to see if vegetation will grow, Suess said.
“We won’t know until this summer,” Sylte said.