Firms face $3M in fines over flooded ND oil pits

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota regulators said Thursday that they had levied $3 million in finds against 20 companies that failed to protect oilfield waste pits from spring flooding.

Lynn Helms, the director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said about 10 percent of the state's 500 waste ponds were swamped this spring by meltwater from one of the state's snowiest winters on record. The waste pit breaches came despite regulators' warnings that they could happen.

Tallahassee, Fla.-based Oil For America LLC was fined $1.26 million for spills at two sites in North Dakota's oil patch.

Company spokesman Bob Angerer said he had not seen the violation notices and could not comment on them.

Dave Glatt, the director of the state Health Department's environmental health section, said his agency also is sending violation notices to companies involved in at least five of the waste pit spills cited by the state Department of Mineral Resources. The Health Department also plans to sanction and fine companies involved in about a dozen other swamped waste pit incidents.

Glatt said those fines could tally hundreds of thousands of dollars in each case.

"It depends on the extent of the spill, how quickly they responded to it and how well they cleaned it up," he said.

Runoff from the waste pits, which are about the size of a large swimming pool and can contain oil, diesel, drilling muds and chemicals, has not threatened drinking water sources, Glatt said.

Cleanup is still going on at many of the spill sites and could take months, he said.

Regulators called and sent letters to oil companies in March, warning them to build dikes and take other precautions to prevent overflow of the open pits due to runoff.

Authorities said some of the companies did not do enough to protect the waste pits and others simply ignored the warnings.

Helms said money collected from fines his department issued would be distributed to school districts where the spills occurred. Health Department fines go to the state's general fund, Glatt said.