March 18, 2009

Alexander rancher sues Zenergy Inc. over salt water spill

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

After three years of uncertainty and cleanup, Alexander rancher Linda Monson has decided to sue Oklahoma-based Zenergy Inc. over a pipeline that spilled salt water onto her property and into Charbonneau Creek in January 2006.
For as long as anyone can remember springs have fed into Charbonneau Creek west of Alexander. That fresh water has been the source of water for cattle ranchers in that part of McKenzie County as well as an important tributary to the Yellowstone River.
However, after a ruptured pipeline spilt nearly 950,000 gallons of highly concentrated salt water onto the land things have not been the same.
The spill sent salt water, which is a normal waste product of oil production and is about 20 times more saline than seawater, flowing over the ground across Monson’s property and along a drainage ditch into a dry stock dam, before overflowing a beaver dam, and eventually flowing into the Charbonneau Creek. The spill caused fish, turtles and other fresh water life to die and threatened livestock.
The pipeline owned by Zenergy Inc. was a new line that was serving an oil field development off the Jack 1-29 H well, southwest of Alexander.
Although Zenergy Inc. along with the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division and the North Dakota Health Department scrambled to clean up what was referred to as the largest salt water spill in the last 10 years, Monson isn’t happy with their efforts or the shape her land has been left in after the group’s cleanup.
“A portion of the creek on Linda’s land has dried up since the cleanup efforts,” says Derrick Braaten of the Sarah Vogel Law Firm. “There is also a large portion of her land where the salt water flowed that she can’t get anything to grow.”
According to Braaten, in an effort to return the creek to its original condition a lot of remediation work has been done and is ongoing still today.
“It is believed that digging during the remediation work cut off some of the natural springs causing the portion of the creek on Monson’s land, upstream from the spill to dry up,” states Braaten.
The dried up portion of the creek isn’t the only portion of Charbonneau Creek on Monson’s land. Although the North Dakota Department of Health deemed the creek safe for cattle in March of 2006, Monson’s cattle will still not drink from it.
“We feel that even though the water has been okayed by the North Dakota Health Department, the soil under the water still has a high salt content,” adds Braaten. “There are ongoing efforts to flush the creek and get the salt out of the soil, but Monson has been forced to endure a lot due to this spill.”
While the cattle feel that Charbonneau Creek is not potable to drink, they are drinking from a tank on Monson’s land that is being supplied with water from a well that was put in for her by Zenergy Inc.
“On occasion some of the cattle will drink from the creek,” comments Braaten. “But as long as there is an alternate water source available they are drinking from it instead of the creek.”
According to Braaten there was a settlement offered to Monson for an amount less than $10,000 from Zenergy Inc.
“From this lawsuit, Monson is hoping to be compensated for damages to her land, decreased real estate value, loss of topsoil, future damages and everything else she has had to suffer through,” states Braaten. “This has been a big ordeal and Monson has gone through a lot due to the Zenergy spill.”
In September 2007 Zenergy Inc. agreed to pay the State of North Dakota $123,300 as part of a settlement with the state.
The total amount paid by the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Zenergy Inc. includes a civil penalty of $70,000 paid to the state for violations of state laws and regulations, as well as reimbursement to the Department of Health of $53,308.84 for time and expenses. An additional $31,750 was suspended and returned to Zenergy after one year for fully complying with the cleanup and for no further violations to North Dakota’s water pollution laws.
As part of the agreement, Zenergy continues to clean up the contaminated soil and water impacted by the spill.