WILLISTON, N.D. -- Damage around a North Dakota oil well site where officials believe floodwaters shifted a storage tank, causing at least 900 gallons of oil to spill into the Missouri River, does not appear to be significant, state health department officials said Friday.
The tank is at a well site owned by Ryan Exploration Inc., which has committed to cleaning up the mess. The site is among about 40 on the flood plain southwest of Williston shut down under state orders when the river started to rise in May. Some companies emptied storage tanks of oil and refilled them with water to hold them down in the high water.
"If everybody could have predicted how much water we were going to get, these wells could have been closed down sooner and theoretically all the oil pumped out of these tanks before they were flooded," State Water Quality Director Dennis Fewless said Friday.
State health officials said another company discovered the spill Wednesday and immediately started efforts to contain the oil and clean it up. Ryan Exploration crews also have been working at the site, said Kris Roberts, state environmental geologist.
"They've been extremely cooperative," Roberts said.
Ryan Exploration reported a minor spill in 2006, but there have been no major complaints against the Denver-based company, said Bruce Hicks, assistant director of the state's Oil and Gas Division.
"I haven't seen them on the radar before," Fewless said.
The tank held 68 barrels of oil and at least 20 barrels are believed to have leaked. A barrel holds 42 gallons. Roberts said the tank stopped leaking when the level of oil inside reached the level of water outside. A second tank with 210 barrels of oil did not shift and was not leaking.
"There was potential to have more leaks out of those tanks," Fewless said. "It's the best we could hope for a bad situation."
Said Roberts, "We dodged a bullet."
The North Dakota spill is much smaller than an estimated 42,000-gallon spill from a ruptured pipeline two weeks ago into the Yellowstone River in Montana.
Tim Ryan of Denver, owner of the site where the tank leaked, told The Bismarck Tribune it might not have been emptied because the water rose too fast.
"Clearly, I should have been more prepared, but it didn't occur to me that the water would go over our 10-foot-dike," Ryan said. "When I heard this, I felt terrible. I don't think I slept an hour (Wednesday) night."
Ryan estimated the cleanup cost at his well site at $500,000.
"We saw a couple of questionable spots, but my nightmare was that we would see one big slick," he said.