By Jenna Ebersole
One man was killed during the evacuation of a rig blow-out that shot a mist of roughly 400 barrels of oil and 400 barrels of salt water across fields southeast of Williston, officials said.
Jason Pinasco, 39, of Higden, Ariz. was struck while on foot by a vehicle being removed from the location off County Road 11-A just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Williams County Sheriff’s Office press release. The blow-out occurred Tuesday night at about 11 p.m. and continued through Wednesday evening when efforts to bring it entirely under control succeeded by about 6:30 p.m., officials said.
Counts on exactly how much was spilled are only rough at this point as cleanup continues, Health Department Environmental Scientist Kris Roberts said, but he said a risk of contamination will continue. The contaminated area extends three quarters of a mile to the northwest and close to a full mile to the southeast, he said.
“We’ve got a couple of agricultural fields that have been impacted,” Roberts said. “All the vegetation will be removed and then we will go back and sample the soil beneath the plume area.”
The situation becomes more serious, Roberts said, if the contaminants reach the soil – or even worse, the water.
Although the oil and gas division of the Department of Mineral and Resources is handling most of the coordinating of the contaminated site itself, Roberts and the Health Department are involved with any spread of contaminants beyond it.
“What ends up off location and has the potential to impact waters of the state falls into my jurisdiction,” he said.
One major risk, Roberts said, is a drainage near the location that feeds into Long Creek and eventually empties into Lake Sakakawea. Particularly hazardous would be a rainstorm in the next day or so that could wash the contaminants to the drainage.
“If there’s heavy soil contamination that could be washed off a location or off site into the drainage,” he said.
Cleanup groups are putting absorbent barriers in place throughout Friday to help prevent that risk.
So far, the EPA has not been involved and Zavanna – the company that owns the well – has a contractor helping with cleanup.
Stuart Buckingham, who stood along the road at the accident site, said he is with Black Hawk Energy Services and flew into town from New Mexico during the blow-out. He knew the man who was killed.
“Everyone is just all over very saddened and shocked,” he said. “He was just a great guy.”
The driver of the truck that struck Pinasco, Adalberto Lozano, 35 of Farmington, N.M., is not in custody and, according to the Sheriff’s Office, the incident is still under investigation. Buckingham said the death was an accident but couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation.
Relief operator on the drill Josh Campbell said was actually at the rig when the blow-out occurred as he scrambled with other workers to adjust valves and stop it.
“We know what to do usually,” he said.
“I heard like a popping sound and the next thing you know it was like a volcano,” well worker Ryan Stevens said.
But Roberts said the major reason the adjustment didn’t work here was that workers were putting production pumping equipment into the well. Two parts of the well development process had been done, but the well had not yet begun producing.
Roberts said blow-outs can happen at any time in the development process, but are still rare. The most important thing is worker safety in these situations.
“Basically no matter what, human safety comes first,” he said.