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Cleanup begins at well site

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Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 10:41 am

An oil well sprayed a mixture of natural gas, formation water and oil for nearly 48 hours over the weekend before crews plugged the spill about five miles west of Watford City.

The investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing, but a workover rig was working on “normal completion operations” to put the Newfield Exploration Company well into production, company spokesman Keith Schmidt said Monday.

The spill began at the Drovdal 150 99 18-19 1H well at 8 p.m. Friday with mostly natural gas spilling, Schmidt said. He said safety was not an issue and the well is at a remote location.

“Everyone is safe and is accounted for,” he said. “The surrounding community is safe and business continued as usual.”

Environmental geologist Kris Roberts of the state Department of Health, who was on site Saturday as the spill continued, said Monday that the plume extended over a mile in the direction the wind was blowing and over mostly agricultural and industrial land.

A temporary plug cut the leak down to a point where it was only “weeping” a small amount of liquid, Roberts said. The next step was pumping down heavy saltwater, which was to be completed Monday.

“When that’s done, then they’ll be removing the tubing from the well head itself and putting a secure physical cap at the well head,” Roberts said.

At the beginning, the liquids sprayed from a point about 80 to 95 feet in the air when tubing shot up into the well head and got caught in the derrick.

“The end of the tubing is where the mist started blowing out of,” Roberts said. “Beyond that it was probably 50 or 60 feet straight up from there.”

Roberts said officials from the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, the company and a consultant were set to develop a clean-up plan in the following days.

He said the winter weather makes things both easier and more difficult in the case of spills.

For now, contaminants are sitting on top of snow cover.

“The good thing is, with the snow and cold, we have time,” he said.

A disadvantage, though, is the harsh temperatures.

“The conditions put people at risk,” he said.

Another issue is delineating the area that needs to be cleaned up, which crews were trying to do as early as Monday by cutting profiles in the snow with shovels and looking for a layer of mist.

“In some ways it’s going to be easier, in other ways it’s going to be a lot tougher,” Roberts said.

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