When exactly the spill began in the Belle Fourche pipeline is unknown, but the break was reported by a landowner on December 5. About 4,200 barrels of oil flowed into the Ash Coulee Creek near Belfield North Dakota.
Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the North Dakota Health Department, said the spill traveled about 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek. The creek feeds into the Little Missouri River, but Seuss said it appears no oil got that far and that no drinking water sources were threatened. The creek was free-flowing when the spill occurred but has since frozen over.
According to Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for pipeline owner True Companies of Casper, Wyoming, monitoring technology designed to detect leaks, but it possibly failed because of “the intermittent nature of the flow” of oil through the pipeline. The pipeline is buried on a hill and Owen said the hillside sloughed, possibly causing the line to rupture. The Belle Fourche line is mostly underground but is above ground where it crosses the Ash Coulee Creek.
The Belle Fourche line was immediately shut down when the leak was discovered. The incident is being investigated but is somewhat hampered by winter weather.
True Companies has reported 36 spills since 2006, spilling more than 320,000 gallons of petroleum, according to an Associated Press report. In January 2015 a 32,000 gallon spill flowed into the Yellowstone River and shut down water supplies for Glendive, Montana.
True Companies operates at least three pipeline firms in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Oil spills from these lines collectively total almost $11 million. True Companies also operates Black Hills Trucking which has been accused of illegally dumping saltwater, a by-product of oil production in 2014. The state is pursuing $950,000 in fines for the illegal dumping.