wastewater

Lightning And Oil Country: A Volatile Mix

Aug 28, 2017
Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Dozens of times during the summer as the rain picks up here on the prairie, suddenly, there’s a flash.

“You can be sitting there watching it, enjoying the night and all the sudden, boom!” said Kyle Chernenko, a resident of Grassy Butte.

Chernenko has watched these prairie thunderstorms his whole life from his home in North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. He’s the volunteer fire chief in this small town.

Amy Sisk / Inside Energy

Way up in northern North Dakota lies an old oilfield with a problem 60 years in the making.

It’s noticeable on farmers’ land, like the fields harvested by Clarke Stevens near the small town of Glenburn.

His wheat fields span far across the prairie. In the middle is a 3-acre patch of barren soil.

“We’re always farming around areas like this, and every year they continue to grow,” Stevens said.

This is the site of an old brine pit. Decades ago, trucks took this salty wastewater — produced alongside oil from nearby wells — and dumped it into this pit.

A lightning strike earlier this week in western North Dakota’s oil patch led to a large spill at a saltwater disposal site.

Lightning struck the site Monday night near Grassy Butte, about 15 miles from where firefighters have spent the first half of the week battling a wildfire.

 

The lightning caused a separate fire that burned through 18 tanks, according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

 

Oil and gas production creates waste that can wreak havoc on farmland and pose health risks.

A new series of maps from the Western Organization of Resource Councils shows locations for waste spills and disposal facilities in North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.