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ONEOK's new estimate of recovered condensate from 2015 spill at Garden Creek plant exceeds 837,000 gallons

A 2015 spill at the Garden Creek plant was at least 837,800 gallons of condensates or natural gas liquids, according to new figures provided to the state by the company, and is likely to top at least 1 million gallons, according to a top state regulator.

The figures are the latest for a 2015 spill that was initially reported by ONEOK as 10 gallons plus an unknown quantity. But it still puts the state no closer to a final estimate of the total spill size.

Tuesday, Sept. 3, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality released a statement that estimated recovered materials at the spill site at 846,000 gallons of fluid, a figure that combined groundwater and condensate volumes.

The figure itself illustrates one of the difficulties in estimating spill volumes. On the one hand, the combined statistic, while an accurate reflection of recovery efforts, still tends to overestimate spill volumes. But, on the other hand, it’s also just a portion of what’s still left to recover in an ongoing cleanup that has years to go.

DEQ officials requested that ONEOK expedite a new estimate of recovered condensates from its 2015 spill after media reports criticized the spill report data the state agency provides online.

An initial report filed by ONEOK, which is readily available online, listed the spill’s volume as 10 gallons of condensate plus an unknown quantity of condensate saturating the ground around the pipeline.

Subsequent updates to the online materials, however, did not include any new information about how much material was being recovered at the site.

Last year, ONEOK told the state it had recovered 240,000 gallons of material in 2017. That information was part of the spill’s case file — which is available for public review upon request — but did not appear in any of the brief online notes that update actions related to the spill, attached to the bottom of the initial report.

That led some media outlets to accuse the state of covering up the size of the Garden Creek spill, since the recovered volumes turned out to be so much larger than the initial report suggested.

The department’s policy stating it will provide updated spill volumes only when new estimates are received from the company was also confusing.

ONEOK never sent such an update, and, since the recovered amounts would still underestimate spill volumes, there was never any update to the online estimate of spill volume — even though it obviously significantly exceeded 10 gallons.

An internal memo put the spill volume at 11 million gallons, but the company has said that number was used by its environmental contractor to design the cleanup. It was not meant to be an estimate of actual spill volumes.

Karl Rockeman, director of DEQ’s Division of Water Quality, told the Williston Herald that the total spill volume at Garden Creek is likely to reach at least 1 million gallons, though he added that also cannot be taken as a final estimate of the spill’s volume.

“Based on how things are going out there, I think we will be likely to get to at least that amount of recovered material,” he said.

Cleanup at the site is still ongoing, however, and is likely to continue for an unspecified number of years, Rockeman added. That makes a final estimate of spill volume difficult to obtain right now — if ever.

“We can say the spill is larger than that number, but how much larger, we don’t know,” Rockeman said. “The real question is are we getting it cleaned up, and the answer is yes. That is ultimately our goal, to get (any spill) cleaned up.”

ONEOK has meanwhile recovered most of the condensates that it can readily get by siphoning it off of ground water, according to Department of Environmental Quality Director David Glatt. He told the Williston Herald the company will be moving on to soil vapor extraction next.

In that process, air is pumped into the ground via a system of wells, pushing vapor out through a different series of companion wells.

Some of the material recovered in this fashion could be used as fuel for the remediation work, Rockeman said. It could also be fed back into production processes, or captured with charcoal filters.

The latter would require proper disposal, Rockeman pointed out.

In the meantime, Glatt has pledged to improve the transparency of spill reporting by his agency online, and that effort is already underway.

Rockeman said it will take place across three stages.

“In the short-term, we are reviewing the record, making sure we have some type of update in the database describing the current status of (all open spills,” he said.

This preliminary review of the state’s 600 to 800 open spills will be completed by the end of the week.

Some of the spill sites might require additional information from the company or a site visit to ensure an accurate update, Rockeman said. That additional work will be phase two.

“We cannot capture all the activity at each of these sites, but we can reference a report that is in the file,” Rockeman said. “That way the public will know they can access the information if they need it.”

The third phase, and longer term effort, is actually something that was already underway, long before the Garden Creek spill drew scrutiny.

The state has been working for at least a couple of years now on a new data management system for its spill reporting. A new approach to spill reporting and data management was among recommendations by a 2015 Energy & Environmental Research Center study that was looking into best practices for preventing pipeline spills.

The new data management system being developed as a result of the EERC recommendation will consolidate all the various types of spills into one database, whether crude oil or agricultural chemicals.

This should help reduce confusion as to where to find what spill, as well as prevent spills from being reported twice in the same database.

Too many different reporting mechanisms sometimes led company employees to file the same spill with multiple agencies. Those agencies also share databases, which sometimes also led to some duplication.

Agencies working on the improving the state’s spill reporting data include DEQ, Department of Agriculture, North Dakota Industrial Commission, and the Department of Emergency Services.

The working group is getting ready to send out requests for proposals on the new data management system, Rockeman said, with the goal being an entirely new system up and running within a year or so.

“This was moving along pretty steadily all along,” Rockeman added. “I don’t know that (the Garden Creek media coverage) sped it up any, but it reiterated that what we are doing is necessary.”

Kernza showing potential to be a new star player in the MonDak

An ancient perennial cousin of wheat has so far shown it makes great beer and potentially great honey-toasted cereal as well. It’s also showing potential to grow very well in the MonDak, and it is thus going to get a starring role at an upcoming field day at the Williston Research Extension Center.

The grain is called Kernza, and it has already debuted in a few food products. A beer made by Patagonia for one, and 6,000 boxes of a limited edition cereal produced by General Mills subsidiary brand, Cascadian Farms, for another.

Kernza has a long way to go before it can be considered commercially viable, but among the early steps in that journey are variety trials. Thee are already taking place at Williston Research Extension and at six other locations in the nation, including Ohio, New York, and Minnesota, to name a few.

Cropping specialist Dr. Clair Keene became interested in Kernza after a presentation by Lee DeHaan with the Land Institute at a recent Hard Red Spring Wheat Show in Williston.

“The idea of a dual purpose crop is very appropriate here,” Keene said. “We have a lot of producers here who have cattle, and even if they don’t, having forage to sell is not a bad thing to spread risk across multiple products. It could be a really good fit for this area.”

Keene planted the first round of Kernza last fall. That will have been harvested by the time of the field day, but she also planted the variety trial again in the spring.

“That is looking pretty good as well,” she said, “so we’ll be able to see both a one-year and a spring-seeded stand.”

There are nine different lines in Keene’s trial.

“Two of (the Kernza lines) are old forage types,” Keene said. “They are not truly Kernza, they are just intermediate wheat grass.”

Two other lines came from the Land Institute in Kansas and five came from the University of Minnesota, whose spring wheat breeder has also been working on several lines of the crop for five to seven years now.

“The point of the site trial is to put the different breeding lines out in a variety of habitats and see how they do,” Keene said. “We want to see if the material being developed in Kansas and Minnesota are a good fit for other places.”

So far, Keene said, the answer to that appears to be yes, at least for this region.

Development of markets for Kernza, however, have been a little shaky. The limited edition cereal, Honey Toasted Kernza, for example, was offered by Cascadian Farms in exchange for a $25 donation to the Land Institute. It was so limited due to crop failure.

The Land Institute, meanwhile, is trying to find ways to increase the crop’s yield, which right now is substantially less than wheat on a per acre basis. Bigger seeds and more seeds per plant are the goals, all without losing the perennial nature of the crop.

Hybridizing with wheat accomplishes the former, but not the latter, and it is the latter that Dehaan believes is a game changer for agriculture.

Perennials, DeHaan explained during his lecture at the Hard Red Spring Wheat Show, are in the ground year-round, and that gives them a lot of “green” potential, in multiple senses of the world.

First, they can save farmers some “green” by reducing input costs, since they don’t have to be planted every year.

They’re also good for the soil. Kernza has deep roots extending more than 10 feet. That’s twice as deep as conventional wheat.

Such deep roots that are in the ground year-round working can do a lot of good things for the soil. They reduce erosion, help retain more organic matter, as well as reducing the amounts of nitrogen and other amendments that are lost to runoff. Farmers also might not need to apply as much of these amendments each year for Kernza as they do for annuals.

“The idea of having a perennial that you don’t need to plant or till the ground every year, that’s big,” DeHaan said. “There’s a nice association between the economic benefits and the environment, as well.”

Driver injured when boom crane truck crashes in McKenzie County

A 40-year-old man was seriously injured when the 2015 Kenworth crane boom truck he was driving rolled Wednesday morning, Sept. 4.

The man, from Pascagoula, Mississippi, was driving north on County Road 55 in McKenzie County, about a half mile north of the Highway 23 roundabout and about 3 miles north of Keene around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The truck drove off the roadway to the right and the driver overcorrected, the Highway Patrol said. The truck rolled onto its passenger side and came to a stop in the road.

The driver, whose name has not yet been released, was taken to the hospital by ambulance, then later flown to Trinity Hospital in Minot. Police said he sustained serious, life-threatening injuries in the crash.

The crash is still under investigation.

Downtown lunch Friday will raise money for school renovation projects

A lunch in downtown Williston on Friday, Sept. 6, is going to benefit plans to renovate schools in Williston Public School District No. 1.

The free-will donation lunch is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Hedderich lot at the intersection of Main and Second streets. Oil company Equinor is sponsoring the event, and also plans to match all contributions received Friday up to a total of $10,000.

That money is going to go to the district, which, along with the Williston Coyote Foundation and the Moving Forward Matters Committee is fundraising for an Innovation Academy.

The plan is to convert the old Hagan pool building into a four-grade Innovation Academy to provide more opportunities and space for students.

The academy, which started last year with fifth grade, will grow over the next several years to include fifth through eighth grades and serve about 400 students. It will reduce class sizes at both Bakken Elementary and Williston Middle school and serve as an example of personalized learning that can be applied districtwide.

Another part of the project is converting a space formerly used by Williston High School as an auto shop and career and technical education space to 7,000 usable square feet for Williston Middle School. That which will include five core classrooms, two elective rooms and a robotics lab.

The lunch is part of an ongoing effort by school board members and others to find more space to deal with massive enrollment increases. Two efforts in 2019 to pass a bond to build new schools failed, with both getting more than 50 percent of the vote but less than the 60 percent required to pass.

The district plans to pay for the Innovation Academy and other renovations by multiple methods, including fundraising, using part of the district’s building fund and a grant from Williams County. The total project will cost $12 million, and the fundraising goal is $5 million.

Girlfriend of suspect in fatal Friday shooting accused of hindering police

The girlfriend of a man accused of murder has been charged with hindering law enforcement after police said she helped to hide her boyfriend.

Jennella Roberson, 35, was charged Wednesday, Sept. 4, with a class C felony count of hindering law enforcement. Police said Roberson is the girlfriend of Reginald Toussaint, 25, who was charged Tuesday with murder in the shooting death of Cesar Pineda. Roberson was ordered held on $10,000 bond.

Police and prosecutors claim that Toussaint shot Pineda in the chest in front of the Days Inn and Suites on Ninth Avenue in Williston late Friday evening. He was arrested Saturday and was ordered held on $1 million bond after a hearing Tuesday. Michael Kuna, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, said during Roberson’s bond hearing Wednesday that police had to use a SWAT Team to arrest Toussaint.

Roberson was interviewed after the shooting and told officers she hadn’t seen or spoken to Toussaint in about a week, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Northwest District Court. Eventually, she admitted to police that she had been at the hotel on the night of the shooting, but said she left before the incident.

Police were called to the hotel around 10:30 p.m. Friday for a report of someone being shot. When police and emergency medical personnel arrived, they found Pineda, who died from the gunshot wound.

After admitting being at the hotel, Roberson also told officers that she had spoken with Toussaint on Saturday while he was on the run, court records indicate.

Investigators reviewed surveillance footage from nearby businesses and saw a man and a woman running the Days Inn after the shooting, charging documents state. Officers were able to identify the pair and Toussaint and Roberson.

Witnesses also told police that a woman matching Roberson’s description was at the Days Inn when the shooting happened, investigators wrote in the probable cause affidavit.

Kuna asked for a $10,000 bond, telling Northwest District Judge that the bond was appropriate, despite Roberson only having one previous criminal charge.

“The allegations are very serious,” he said.

Roberson said she hoped to post bond because she had to work.

“I need to be out to take care of my apartment and keep my job,” she said.

Roberson is scheduled to have a bond hearing at 3 p.m. on Wednesday and a preliminary hearing on Oct. 2.