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PHMSA issues corrective action order over North Dakota oil pipeline spill

23 December 2016

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a corrective action order to Belle Fourche, part of True Companies of Wyoming, following an investigation into the 4,200 barrel (176,400 gallon) spill discovered on December 5 by a landowner northwest of Belfield, North Dakota.

Stock image
Stock image

The spill was not detected by monitoring equipment on the pipeline. PHMSA inspections in 2004 and 2009 showed that portions of the Belle Fourche’s pipeline system lacked accurate or timely leak-detection systems, the agency said.

The corrective order requires Belle Fourche to install leak detection equipment within six months, with a high priority placed on areas associated with the Little Missouri River and other water crossings more than 100 feet wide.

A 19-mile segment of the pipeline has been isolated and shut down. The corrective action order requires Belle Fourche to take several additional steps prior to restarting the pipeline, including:
* Conduct daily aerial patrols of the affected segment of pipeline for the next 14 days, including the use of an infrared camera to locate any areas of potential oil leaks.
* Complete testing and analysis of the failed section of pipe within 90 days and submit a root cause failure analysis within 120 days.
* Conduct an in-line inspection of the pipeline with a tool capable to detecting stress caused by ground movement.
* Review the effectiveness of the company’s emergency response as related to the failure.
PHMSA also noted that this pipeline falls under the same corrective action order the agency issued in January 2015 to True Companies following the oil spill in the Yellowstone River that temporarily contaminated the water supply for Glendive, Montana. The agency said the response plan submitted under that order was “deemed to be inadequate.”

The company can contest the order. Failure to comply could result in civil penalties.

Although the cause of the Belfield spill is still under investigation, one theory is that it was caused by unstable conditions in the rugged Badlands terrain. The hillside where the pipeline break occurred is slumping and there are other indications of ground movement, which may have caused the pipeline to “experience compressive or bending forces within the slope failure,” PHMSA said in the order.

The agency identified a 58-mile segment of the oil pipeline that traverses similar topography and ordered the company to conduct a risk assessment there.

The oil pipeline under investigation was built in the 1980s, but the segment that failed was installed in 2013, the agency said. The company also must evaluate other pipeline segments that were installed using the same method.

The pipeline leak spilled about, of oil and contaminated 4½ miles of Ash Coulee Creek. More than 1,900 barrels, or 79,800 gallons, of oil has been recovered with cleanup efforts still ongoing, a spokeswoman for True Companies said.

Crews are skimming oil from the creek and carrying out controlled burns, a spokesman for the North Dakota Department of Health said.

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