A trucking company operating in North Dakota that has been accused of illegal dumping could be facing up to $2 million in fines, according to an administrative complaint filed by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

The administrative complaint is the latest step in a chain of enforcement actions against SBT Trucking, based in Utah but operating in North Dakota. State officials say the company was initially cooperative, but has since become unresponsive.

The Williston Herald has contacted SBT for comment on the state’s complaint.

According to the state’s complaint, which was filed last month, a landowner in Dunn County on June 10, 2018, witnessed an SBT employee dumping liquid oilfield waste from an SBT truck onto the landowners property while parked on the Borth 1-35 well pad, owned and operated by Marathon Oil Company.

The driver was later identified in court records as George Baker Jr., of Ponderay Idaho. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating the rules and regulations of the state’s Industrial Commission, a felony. He was ordered to pay $502,000 in restitution, and spend three years on probation. Court records indicate he has paid about $9,500 so far.

The landowner, who was later identified in court records as Shane Dolezal, reported what he’d seen to the Department of Environmental Quality through state radio and the Emergency Preparedness and Response case manager that day.

The next day, a state inspector went to the site along with SBT officials, an SBT consultant, Marathon Oil Company personnel, and the landowner to inspect the location.

During the inspection, an SBT official said that 100 barrels of produced water had been intentionally released from the truck off of the southeast corner of the well pad onto the landowner’s property, the state’s complaint says.

The spill, by that time, had already been absorbed into the surrounding soil. An SBT consultant took samples from the spill area and from the produced water in the truck to determine where the material had migrated to. The state’s complaint says it was ultimately found that produced water from the spill had migrated through a coal seam into groundwater. North Dakota defines ground water as a Water of the State, and it prohibits dumping any wastes in a way that they might leach into it.

The bromide levels in the samples were consistent with the produced water in the truck, the complaint says. The chloride levels in the water were also much higher than background, and were high enough to damage vegetation, soils and aquatic life, as well as ecosystems.

SBT excavated the soil down to the coal vein, and an SBT consultant began pumping the contaminated water out. However, SBT discontinued remediation activities in May 2019, the state says.

SBT has not responded to requests from the Department of Environmental Quality to resume remediation activities. A notice of violation was subsequently issued on June 6, 2019.

To this date, the excavation site remains open, the state’s complaint says. Contaminated water remains in the coal seam as well, and is seeping from it.

Five charges are listed in the complaint. They are unpermitted discharge, polluting state waters, violating water quality standards, unpermitted waste hauling, and improper disposal of waste.

The administrative notice requests an order imposing a fine of $1 million for the first three counts, and a fine of $1 million for the last two in the list. The respondent would also be required to immediately remediate the dumped produced water according to plans approved by DEQ, as well as any other remedies deemed necessary.

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