On Tuesday, January 6, 2015, physical inspection of a produced water pipeline route by employees of Meadowlark Midstream Company, LLC revealed above ground pooling of produced water, adjacent to the pipeline right-of-way. Meadowlark employees immediately shut in the pipeline and subsequently found a ruptured section of pipe.
The portion of pipeline that failed was removed from service for testing and was replaced. While the new section of pipeline has passed pipeline integrity testing, at this point, the pipeline remains out of service.
When did the rupture occur and how did it occur?
We are in the process of investigating when and how the breach occurred. Meadowlark initiated a response plan immediately upon learning of the incident and is committing all resources necessary to fully address and promptly remediate the impact of the produced water release.
What caused the rupture?
We do not know what caused the rupture at this time. We will be working with independent experts to determine the cause of the rupture through testing of the affected pipeline section.
When will you know what happened?
Meadowlark is conducting an extensive investigation into multiple aspects of the pipeline breach. Meadowlark is expediting these findings to the greatest extent possible.
Was there any physical evidence of a pipeline leak before January 6, 2015?
In addition to other on-the-ground inspections, Meadowlark utilizes the services of an expert third-party pipeline inspection company that uses aircraft to visually inspect the Meadowlark Midstream pipeline system on a monthly basis. The last fly-over inspection prior to January 6, 2015, was on December 30, 2014. At that time, there was no physical or observable evidence of a pipeline rupture or produced water leak.
Was there any work ongoing by Meadowlark, its contractors, or any other party immediately prior to physical evidence of a pipeline rupture?
This section of the produced water gathering system was previously constructed and placed into service in June 2014. Meadowlark is not aware of any construction work near the location of this pipeline rupture point for several months prior to discovering the leak.
Who regulates produced water pipelines in North Dakota?
Meadowlark has met all requirements under the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which oversees produced water pipelines in the State. This includes filing the required affidavit affirming that the pipeline was constructed in compliance with state rules.
How large is the pipeline? What is it made of?
The produced water pipeline was commissioned in June 2014. It is four inches in diameter and is made of a composite material, known as FiberSpar LinePipe.
Is the ruptured pipeline above ground or underground?
It is underground. Meadowlark’s gathering pipelines are generally located underground, typically five to seven feet under the surface, which is below the frost line, except where the lines must be above ground to go into storage tanks or pumps.
Was the ruptured pipeline ever inspected?
Yes. Meadowlark retains qualified third party inspectors throughout the construction and installation process of all of its pipelines and facilities. Following construction, and prior to being placed in service, every pipeline segment and attached fitting undergoes a variety of inspection and testing procedures to verify the integrity of the system and ensure that the system can hold its maximum allowable operating pressure without leakage.
Are there any other possible leaks on the system?
Immediately after learning of the pipeline rupture, Meadowlark’s operations personnel satisfactorily re-tested every section of the water gathering pipeline that is connected to the ruptured section of pipeline.
How much produced water was released?
While a preliminary review of available Company metering data indicated as much as 70,000 barrels of produced water might have been released from the ruptured pipeline, we are still collecting data from third parties and experts and, accordingly, cannot provide a final estimate at this time.
What is produced water?
Produced water is principally a brine or salty water trapped in reservoir rock and brought to the surface along with oil or gas during production. The brine primarily contains common salts that are typically found in soil and groundwater at lower concentrations. The most abundant salt is sodium chloride or table salt, though the brine also includes other common minerals such as barium, boron (as in borax soap), calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium. There can also be petroleum hydrocarbons derived from crude oil as well as trace levels of other elements found in the oil-bearing rock.
What is the purpose of the produced water gathering pipeline?
In general, produced water gathering pipelines are used to gather and remove produced water from multiple crude oil production sites and carry that produced water to a dedicated third-party disposal well.
Why are salinity levels in produced water so high? What other substances are in the water besides salt?
Crude oil production takes place thousands of feet below the surface of the earth. Naturally occurring water located at depths below the freshwater table becomes progressively saltier. This naturally occurring saltwater often accumulates in the porous rock formations that also contain oil and gas deposits. As a result, it rises to the surface during crude oil production process and must be separated and transported via trucks or produced water gathering pipelines to disposal wells.
The produced water gathering pipeline is designated for the transport of produced water, in which chloride (salt) is present. While it is unlikely that any other materials are present in significant quantities, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting extensive sampling and testing of the water dispelled by the rupture to determine the presence of other elements.
Is there an update on the water quality of Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River?
Meadowlark takes samples of the surface water at over 25 locations on Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River and performs water quality analysis both in the "field" and by sending the samples to an independent laboratory. The data indicates that levels of chloride have been reduced significantly since the date of discovery of the pipeline rupture. Meadowlark will continue to monitor the surface water quality and report the results to the North Dakota Department of Health.
How can we know that Meadowlark is committed to the important work of cleanup and remediation over the long term?
Meadowlark will remain focused on environmental cleanup and remediation until the job is complete. Our stakeholders include the communities in which we operate and in which our employees and their families (nearly 80 people) live. We operate more than 850 miles of pipeline in North Dakota and we have invested over $800 million since 2013. We are committed to North Dakota and to ensuring that the impacted land and waterways are returned to their original state.
When will you know for certain there are no impacts to wildlife or other adverse environmental impacts?
At this time, we continue to believe there is no health hazard to the public. Wildlife, ecological and biological specialists will continue to monitor the impacted area vigilantly through the spring thaw.
There are certain mitigating factors that help explain the current status:
What is the being done to contain potential contaminants west of Highway 85?
Since the pipeline rupture occurred just west of Highway 85, Meadowlark’s cleanup and remediation efforts – which includes construction of containment dams, placement of absorbent booms and other measures to both contain the released material and remove it – have focused on that area, in particular.
Has the spill had an impact on local residents?
To date, laboratory testing results from local private water wells have not indicated any unusual or elevated concentrations associated with the produced water release.
Approximately how long do you anticipate the cleanup process will take?
The cleanup process will take as long as necessary to ensure full and complete remediation, and we are committing extraordinary resources to this task. We have retained an experienced environmental remediation consultant, Stantec, to assist with emergency response clean up and mitigation measures, as well as long-term remediation, to help ensure that conditions in affected areas are properly investigated and addressed in full cooperation with the North Dakota Department of Health.
Updated as of: 2/24/15
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