North Dakota’s Zynergy Inc. pipeline spill of 22,000 barrels of saltwater, almost 1,000,000 gallons, 20 times more salty than seawater flowed into Charbonneau Creek. In January 2006 U. S. Water News Online quoted Lynn Helms Director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division declared that, “They (Zynergy) did not have adequate monitoring equipment on this line.” In North Dakota salt water pipelines are not required to have switches that sense of pressure drop and stop the water flow. The author declared that the Zynergy pipeline had a meter had only one end. In North Dakota meters account for salt water pumped into disposal wells because the well owners are paid by volume. The state does not require cradle-to-grave monitors and so no one knows how much saltwater is lost by defective pipes, illegal dumping or any other cause.
Cover page , The Rock Pile shows destruction of productive barley ground in Bottineau County’s Haas Field. The grave white and gray black zones are totally vacant displaying what Oklahoman’ s call “dead soil” dead from the combination of salts. Natural salinity and salt from produced water have overwhelmed the recuperative powers of the soil and altered the rate of water movement. The soil is impermeable and plans no longer transpire in dry out soil. The white portions of the field display a noxious weed called Fox Tail Barley. The beards of the plant are like needles which infect the gums of livestock. The fields in the upper left, beyond the tree lines generally an excellent crop of barley dotted with wetter zones which contain natural salinity. In dryer years these low spots produce “bumper crops”; in wetter years low spots produce salt tolerant weeds. When long-term wet conditions prevail, the low spots fill with a salt tolerant perennial called cattail.
The second page shows a major portion of the Fossum Estate, located in a particularly troubled zone of Bottineau County’s Wiley Oil Field. The Fossum Estate was the site of North Dakota State Geologist Murphy’s Leachate Study. The farmer who has conducted cropping operations on the NDSU land shown in the second page is named Todd Streich. On invitation of the Republican leader of the North Dakota Senate Rich Wardner on April 8, 2014 before the Interim Legislative Committee on Energy Development and Transportation at the North Dakota Fairgrounds in Minot, geologist Murphy and farmer Streich testified about the peril presented by salt contamination of farmland.
PowerPoint entitled Reserve Pit and Brine Studies in North Dakota presented by North Dakota State Geologist Ed Murphy, appendix K. He generally deferred to Representative Marvin E. Nelson, Agricultural Consultant who preceded Murphy presentation of testimony and, to the uniform praise of all, Nelson was the star of the hearing. The central message of Murphy was that it is possible to confine the salt in the reserve pits but they must be girdled with tiles dug in at appropriate depths. Those tiles must lead to a reception zone and sump pump. The salt fluid collected must be pumped out and “down hole”. That is the best practice of the unconventional Bakken oilfield development.
Rep. Marvin Nelson explains decommissioning of oil wells. In Bottineau County many wells produce 1 to 200 barrels of saltwater for each barrel of oil. Some wells have produced thousands of barrels of saltwater and not a single barrel of oil. Why would a producer operated a Non-Economic Well? The answer is that a “lease is said to be held by production.” Our contention is that the Oil and Gas Division of the State of North Dakota is violating the statutes, rules and case law and by policy is preferring lease holders. Just that legal point was decided by the North Dakota Supreme Court in Tank V. Citation Oil and Gas Corp., 2014 ND 123. The court defined “production” — sufficient enough to cover operating costs.”
From the point of view of preserving the productive capacity of farmland the cases sound and overdue. Bottineau County has 40 oil fields, thousands of geriatric oil wells. Hundreds if not thousands have been abandoned. There is no responsible corporation or individual with either bond or financial resources accessible by litigation. Not a single evaporation pit, more properly called “reserve pits”, each containing on average 250 tons , has ever been curtained by tiling as Murphy recommends in the conclusion of his Leachate Study. Every single pit in Bottineau County is now and has been for two decades exposed to and on usual era of cool temperatures and high water tables. No oil producer or state official has seen fit to observe the Leachate study recommendations. As a consequence thousands of acres farm and pasture land under and adjoining old abandoned oil wells are now unproductive and will remain so until the North Dakota devotes sufficient funds from its oil extraction tax to tile pulp and thereby remediate those lands. Other unproductive Bottineau County oil wells are by policy of Director Lynn Helms allowed to continue the pretense of continuous holding by production. The oil and gas division policy violates statutes and rules. The informal state policy of favoring oil developers and minimizing their outlay of capital to release lands formerly held by production deprives estate of mineral royalty and imperils the productivity of the land by delaying remediation. The rule announced in Tank v. Citation Oil , as Tank’s attorney Dennis Johnson explained requires a landowner to make written demand for the surrender of an unproductive lease. If the mineral developer refuses to surrender or renegotiate and pay the current market rate for leasing minerals, the mineral owner either gives up or files a lawsuit. The risks delayed or non-enforcement of statutes and rules requiring surface owner protection impairs the long-term productivity of North Dakota farmlands. See the testimonies of Farmer Streich and Rep. Nelson. North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle’s opinion in Tank does not address salt damage to North Dakota’s farmland. The salt could tell many land and water Council intends to do the count of damaged acres by beginning with two townships in Bottineau County. We are raising $50,000 to engage Bozeman Montana’s Josh Gage, a GIS specialist and geo-application developer to prepare an Interactive Salt Spill Map. We prefer to begin in Bottineau County. We’ll will partner with any North Dakota County Commission was lands are flat and wet. We prefer Bottineau, Renville, Divide, Ward or Williams. We will supplement the interactive map with boots on the ground interviewing willing farmers want to know the extent of the damage to their land. The interview are necessary because the state of North Dakota, in contrast to the Federal land managers, have not kept accurate records on the dates, locations or amounts of salt spilled since conventional oil operations began in North Dakota in the 1950s.