U.S. Water News Online
BISMARCK, N.D. — More than three years after a defective pipeline spewed some 1 million gallons of saltwater into a northwestern North Dakota creek, Linda Monson says her cattle still refuse to drink from it. And the spill has moved into court.
“The water is really brown and disgusting,” said Monson, who also is the postmaster in Alexander, a town of about 200 in northwest North Dakota.
She has run the ranch for more than 30 years and her black Angus cattle used the creek as the primary watering point until the spill. Now, the cows huddle around a water trough near Monson's home, she said.
Despite assurances from the pipeline's owner and state health officials that the creek water is clean, Monson said, her bovine know better.
“They never came home to drink from that cow drinker before, and that's why I know something is wrong,” she said.
Monson was one of about a dozen ranchers affected by the saltwater spill near Alexander that was discovered in January 2006. The spill has been described as the worst environmental disaster in North Dakota's oil history.
A similar spill occurred in August 2005 that never was reported to authorities, Monson said. She is suing oil company and pipeline owner Zenergy, Inc., of Tulsa, Okla., in federal court over the spills, seeking at least $75,000 from Zenergy.
In a third-party action as part of the case, Zenergy is suing SK&S Oilfield Services Inc., of Williston, the contractor that installed the pipeline. A pretrial conference is slated for March 19 in federal court in Bismarck.
Zenergy and SK&S officials did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Zenergy alleges in court documents that the January 2006 leak was caused by pipeline joint that was glued improperly.
“Zenergy's business reputation and standing within the community have been irreparably damaged as a result of SK&S's actions which led to the pipeline leaks,” the Oklahoma company said in court documents.
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. Saltwater from the pipeline, containing water 10 times as salty as seawater, killed fish, turtles and plants along the creek after both spills, Monson said.
State officials have said Zenergy did not have the proper monitoring equipment installed on the 3-inch plastic pipeline when it was built. A worker discovered the 2006 spill by accident.
The state reached a $123,300 settlement with Zenergy in 2007. The settlement included a civil penalty of $70,000 for violations of state laws and regulations and $53,300 to cover the cost of the state's investigation. A fine of $31,750 was suspended.
Dave Glatt, director of the state Health Department's environmental health section, said the cleanup is ongoing. Zenergy has spent more than $2 million on it so far, he said.
“We continue to test and monitor the groundwater and we have not seen any major issues with the creek,” Glatt said. “Overall, it's been doing pretty good.”
Monson said her cattle believe otherwise.
Click here to subscribe to e-Water News Weekly!