Feds Join Investigation Into Badlands’ Pipeline Leak


The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have joined the state Health Department in an investigation and cleanup monitoring of an oil spill from a Belle Fourche Pipeline LLC pipeline into a tributary of the Little Missouri River in the badlands.

The spill was discovered Monday by a nearby landowner, and, so far, 100 barrels of oil have been recovered from Ash Coulee Creek, though it’s still unknown how much oil spilled and what caused the pipeline to break, according to Bill Suess, state spill investigation program manager.

Suess said he expected to have more information later today about the volume of spilled oil and the cause. He said the break occurred where a section of the pipe is exposed over a narrow ravine in the creek, a short stretch extruding from one hillside before entering the other and considered to be self-supporting. He said it appears a slough, or small slide in the soil could be the cause and a geotechnical expert will be involved in the investigation.

The 6-inch pipeline has been shut down. The line is a transmission line, meaning it carries oil collected from a well gathering system, and falls under PHMSA’s oversight. The EPA is involved because Ash Coulee Creek empties into the Little Missouri River, waters under federal jurisdiction.

The spill appears to be contained to a 2.5-mile stretch of Ash Coulee Creek, about 20 miles upstream from where it reaches the Little Missouri River, Suess said.

The creek was still flowing at the time the spill was detected, but froze Tuesday, with good and bad outcomes. The freeze prevents more migration of oil, but also makes it more difficult to pump oil, he said.

The spill has been the focus of much media attention, and Suess said he’s fielded an unusual number of calls, apparently related to attention on the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy in the state.

Belle Fourche Pipeline LLC has a record of 15 spills dating back to 2000, ranging from two barrels to 300 barrels in several oil patch counties, according to department records. The spill location is about 16 miles northwest of Belfield.