Earlier this month, North Dakota was inundated with nearly three million gallons of toxic salt water – the largest spill since the state’s oil boom began.
The spill began on January 6 about 15 miles north of Williston after a pipeline belonging to Summit Midstream Partners was breached.
The wastewater – an extra salty byproduct of hydraulic fracturing – can destroy crops and soil and, according to InsideClimate News, that’s not the worst part. Fracking wastewater is five to eight times saltier than the ocean and can contain toxic doses of ammonium, chloride, heavy metals and radioactive material. AP reports that North Dakota has been plagued with “scores” of such spills since fracking operations began in earnest in 2006. The Star Tribune reported that there were about 300 recorded pipeline spills between 2012 and 2013 that were not reported to the public.
“You don’t want to be drinking this stuff,” Bill Kappel, a hydrogeologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey, told InsideClimate News.
North Dakota officials are reporting that the spill outside Williston poses no immediate danger to public drinking water or human health, though both the Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy Creek have been contaminated – to an extent that will not be known until the ice melts. Dave Glatt, chief of the state’s environmental branch of the Department of Health, told AP that Blacktail Creek will be drained and its water and soil regularly tested throughout the spring thaw.
The health department has reported levels of chloride in the creek at nearly 92,000 milligrams per liter near the pipeline breach. According to Glatt, normal chloride levels are between 10 and 20 mg per liter.
Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, has called brine “an extreme threat to the environment and people’s health.”
“Technology exists to prevent these spills and nothing is being done,” said Schafer. “Better pipelines, flow meters, cutoff switches, more inspectors — something has got to be done.”
Legislation to require flow meters and cutoff switches on North Dakota’s network of wastewater pipelines was voted down by state policymakers in 2013.