Feds Retain Many Post-Belle Fourche Pipeline Spill Corrective Actions

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Federal officials have decided to keep in place many of the corrective measures they ordered in December after a pipeline spilled about 530,000 gallons of oil in western North Dakota, which was one of the biggest spills in the state’s history.

The March 24 decision from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety stemmed from a Feb. 21 hearing in Denver. It means Wyoming-based pipeline operator True Cos. must take several steps, including digging up the failed section of the Belle Fourche Pipeline and doing additional pipe and terrain testing and analysis.

True Cos. maintains that the spill, which is believed to have been caused by hillside erosion, was an “isolated, unpredictable event.” It pointed to numerous other pipelines in the area that have not had problems.

The Office of Pipeline Safety disagreed, saying the Belle Fourche Pipeline is vulnerable to future spills.

“The facility is or would be hazardous to life, property or the environment without corrective measures,” Alan Mayberry, associate administrator for pipeline safety, wrote in his decision.

Mayberry also said it’s possible there have been other leaks on the pipeline that went undetected, though he concluded “the evidence in this case is not sufficient to compel the installation of a new (detection system) at this time.”

The pipeline rupture was discovered by a landowner Dec. 5, about 16 miles northwest of Belfield, which is about 35 miles east of the Montana border. An unknown amount of oil flowed into Ash Coulee Creek, which feeds into the Little Missouri River, a tributary of the Missouri River. No oil made it into the rivers or any drinking water source, and there have been no confirmed cases of livestock or wildlife deaths related to the spill, according to Health Department environmental scientist Bill Seuss.

Cleanup is ongoing and there is no timeline for completion. The state has not made any decisions on any possible fines against True Cos.

The Belle Fourche spill happened amid protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which was being built about 150 miles to the southeast. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe fears a spill from that pipeline would contaminate its water source. Dakota Access developer Energy Transfer Partners says the pipeline is safe, and the company this week said it is preparing to put the full line into service.

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