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Cattle found dead near Belfield, N.D., pipeline spill

BELFIELD, N.D. – Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. estimates that 130,200 gallons of oil spilled into a tributary of the Little Missouri River last week and another 46,200 gallons leaked into a hillside, the North Dakota Department of Health said Monday, Dec. 12

The spill discovered by a landowner on Dec. 5 has contaminated 5.4 miles of Ash Coulee Creek, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager.

The total spill estimate of 4,200 barrels, or 176,400 gallons, is a “rough estimate” provided by the company, Suess said.

Cleanup crews had recovered 878 barrels, or 36,876 gallons, of oil as of Sunday night.

An environmental contractor planned to bring an additional 60 workers Monday to assist cleanup, with winter weather affecting those efforts, Suess said.

At least two cows have been confirmed dead in the area of the oil spill, but the cause of death has not been verified by a veterinarian, Suess said. Crews assisted the landowner in moving cattle away from the creek, he said.

It’s unknown how long the pipeline had been leaking before the landowner discovered it, raising questions about whether the pipeline had monitoring equipment.

The 6-inch pipeline, which transports 1,000 barrels of oil per day though Badlands terrain, is buried in a hill that is slumping, Suess said. Crews have been unable to investigate further because the hillside is unstable, he said.

“Whether the slumping contributed to the break or the break contributed to the slumping, we don’t know yet,” Suess said.

The pipeline was shut down after the spill was discovered and has been capped at the spill location.

In addition to the state health department, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also are investigating.

Belle Fourche Pipeline is part of True Companies of Wyoming, which has been criticized by the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota for its track record of spills. The company also owns Bridger Pipeline, which had a pipeline spill in January 2015 that involved 30,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River, contaminating the drinking supply for the city of Glendive, Mont.