North Dakota Pipeline Leak May Have Been Caused by Landslide, Operator Says.
Federal regulators order pipeline operator to improve leak-detection systems, implement other corrective actions
The operator of a pipeline that spilled an estimated 4,200 barrels of crude oil and contaminated a creek in Western North Dakota said Wednesday the leak might have been caused by a landslide, something federal regulators say may put other sections of the pipeline at risk.
The spill, which was detected earlier this month after it contaminated 5.4 miles of a waterway, marked the largest uncontrolled release of crude in the state since a spill of 21,600 barrels of oil by a Tesoro Logistics LP pipeline in 2013.
It comes as the state’s Bakken Shale oil-producing zone begins to ramp up production as crude prices stabilize.
“The cause has still not yet been confirmed although a leading theory is a landslide that broke the pipeline,” said Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for True Oil LLC, which owns the ruptured Belle Fourche pipeline.
The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Wednesday ordered the Casper, Wyo.-based company to implement several corrective measures before restarting it, including improved leak detection systems, enhanced patrols and remediation of “any pipeline in unstable land areas.”
True Oil, which also operates another pipeline that spilled as much as 1,200 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River last year, said it is reviewing the order but declined to comment on it.
PHMSA also cited apparent ground movement around the section of the pipe that leaked as a potential cause of the rupture and one “which could occur in other areas of the pipeline system where similar conditions exist.”
The six-inch-diameter, 24,000 barrel-per-day capacity pipeline spilled the oil into Ash Coulee Creek northwest of Dickinson, N.D., and has been contained since first being reported on Dec. 5. The spill was spotted by a local landowner after the pipeline’s own monitoring system failed to detect it.
The federal regulator said some sections of the pipeline didn’t have “accurate or timely leak-detection systems” when it conducted inspections in 2004 and 2009. If the current probe finds violations of federal pipeline safety regulations, the company may be subject to civil penalties or other enforcement action, it said.
PHMSA also said it has requested but not yet received the results of an inspection of the pipeline in April conducted by a third party vendor.
The pipeline dates from the 1980s, but the section that ruptured was replaced in 2012, according to North Dakota officials.