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Posted 9/11/19 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Just how safe is the well water that rural McKenzie County residents consume is a good question that everyone who is not hooked up with the McKenzie County Rural Water system needs to be asking. And, an equally important question is how safe is the well water that ranchers are using to water their livestock?
While those questions have always been valid, in light of a recent incident where an oilfield pipeline leak impacted the quality of the well waters that provided drinking water to two mancamps east of Watford City, the importance of rural residents having their water wells routinely quality checked became even more critical.
As is being reported in this week’s McKenzie County Farmer, following XTO Energy Inc.’s reporting of the leak to the North Dakota Industrial Commission on May 30, North Dakota Department of Health officials inspected five test holes on the well pad site and four to be filled with oil, and discovered a five-foot coal seam about six to seven feet below the surface with oil seeping out of it.
And according to county officials, it is likely the coal seam allowed the oil and other material to quickly move into the aquifer and impact the mancamps water wells.
At the same time, a McKenzie County rancher, who was running cattle on a pasture close to the reported oil pipeline leak, started experiencing the death of several of his cattle whose primary water supply was from pasture wells and a creek that ran through the property.
Was the oil pipeline spill responsible for the cattle’s death or was there another cause? That is what McKenzie County officials are now trying to figure out. But based on autopsy reports from the dead cattle, which showed high levels of sulfates, the cattle did not die of natural causes.
Based on initial water sample tests that were taken from the pasture, county officials say that the level of toxins found would be harmful to young children and the elderly and to livestock.
Which is why county officials are encouraging all rural county residents, especially those who live in Sections 14 and 15, Township 150, Range 97, where the leak occurred, who rely on well water for their domestic use or for their livestock to have their water tested.
As the oil and natural gas industry continues to build out in McKenzie County, as much as everyone would like it never to happen, pipeline leaks and oil spills are going to happen. But when those incidents do occur, county residents must have the assurance that oilfield companies accurately report them to the state and that the state immediately follow up to ensure that there is no public health risk.