SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As many as 33 barrels of oil have been contained after spilling from a well into floodwaters near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in northwest North Dakota, the state's Department of Health said Saturday.
Ice jams in the rivers resulting from warmer weather have caused the waters to rise and flood at least 16 wells southwest of Williston, but only one spilled Friday, said Kris Roberts, the head of the health department's environmental response team.
"A tank didn't have a sufficient amount of fluid in it to keep it anchored, and it started flooding a bit," Roberts said. "It had about 33 barrels of oil in the tank, and the valve at the bottom of the tank broke."
Roberts said the wells are surrounded by dikes but said one had a breach, allowing the oil to get into the floodwaters. It is unknown exactly how many of the 33 barrels actually spilled.
The well is operated by Colorado-based Zavanna, LLC. The company did not immediately return calls seeking comment. An employee who wouldn't identify himself on Saturday said a company representative would address questions Monday.
The department is monitoring approximately 30 wells that are at risk in that area. Roberts said state officials this week had warned well operators about potential flooding. He said most operators temporarily sealed their wells and moved some of their equipment after the warning, but others didn't take precautions.
"There're a lot of oil companies operating up here that just don't understand the state," Roberts said. "They don't understand how fast floodwaters can rise when you get an ice dam like this. That's what caught some of them."
Zavanna workers used containment booms to trap the oil, according to Roberts. He also said the company owns three other wells that were under water Saturday.
About 17 miles of the Yellowstone River flows through North Dakota before it joins the Missouri River.1 comment on this story
The big chunks of ice have created a dam in the Missouri River and caused the waters to accumulate near Williston, said Adam Jones, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck. The river on Saturday was at 26 feet, which is considered to be a moderate flood stage. The Yellowstone River, which at the beginning of the month was at around 5 feet, hit 15 feet on Wednesday.
Jones said the ice jams are expected to start breaking in the next couple of days.
The Red Cross over the weekend deployed a team to assist four families who lost their homes to the Yellowstone River. A spokesman on Saturday said the team helped the East Fairview families arrange temporary housing and provided them food and clothes.