Saltwater Spill in Bear Den Bay

Over the Fourth of July weekend, a pipe carrying saltwater (also called “brine”) separated near North Dakota’s badlands and spilled an estimated one million gallons of the oil and gas production byproduct. Brine is ten to thirty times saltier than seawater. The saltwater spill extended nearly two miles down a steep ravine and left a swath of dead vegetation in its path. The polluted ravine flows into Bear Den Bay, which is a tributary to man-made Lake Sakakawea. Lake Sakakawea provides drinking water to the nearby Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The natural resources administrator for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes expressed concern that because the spill occurred at the top of a craggy bluff, the terrain would hinder efforts preserve the Reservation’s drinking water supply. An investigation Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the saltwater reached Bear Den Bay, but that most of the spill was pooled into the ground or held behind beaver dams. The pipeline in question was not equipped with a monitor that would have alerted the company to the spill before this large amount of brine had escaped. The spill was discovered when the company noticed a discrepancy in production loss reports and investigated.