The pipeline that leaked thousands of gallons of crude oil last spring did not have a permit to operate on Bureau of Land Management land, according to the federal agency. The spill occurred about 44 miles southeast of Buffalo.
Although the permit had expired, the BLM has not confirmed whether a fine was levied against Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., the owner of the pipeline.
While Belle Fourche originally held a permit, said Christian Venhuizen, public affairs specialist for the BLM, it had expired. He could not confirm when the permit had expired, how long the company was trespassing before and after the spill and why the initial permit wasn’t renewed.
Repeated calls to Belle Fourche Pipeline were not returned. Belle Fourche is one of several Casper-based True companies involved in the oil and gas and transportation industries.
Belle Fourche claimed that the spill was 12,200 gallons, or 600 barrels, according to Dustin Hill, natural resource specialist for the BLM. Hill is overseeing the remediation process and was the incident manager assigned to the spill. He has been on the scene since the day the spill was reported to the BLM, May 20, 2014. While the BLM agrees that the volume of oil spilled was likely 12,200 gallons, there was no independent investigation into the matter.
The crude traveled about 3 miles down a gentle slope in a narrow, seasonally dry, gulch toward the Powder River, Hill said. Belle Fourche put a dam in place, about a mile west of the river, with a siphon to allow water to travel through but not oil, according to Hill. The company initiated a controlled burn to get rid of the oil quickly, Hill said, due to the proximity to the river. He said the terrain also made it difficult to access the area.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality permitted the burn. The area is not yet up to environmental standards, Hill said.
The DEQ continues to monitor the soil nearly a year after the spill, said Joe Hunter, emergency response coordinator for WDEQ.
Hunter also said the remediation process is mostly a natural one, with organisms consuming the residual oil.
Though the DEQ pays special attention to spills of this size, and companies with a history of incidents, they did not fine Belle Fourche for the spill, Hunter said.
“We look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Hunter said. “Accidents do happen. They had the spill; they put in measures we felt were necessary.”
When you get a major spill like this, Hunter said, there is always some oil soaking into the ground. But, Wyoming crude is rather heavy and tends to sit on the surface, he added.
The National Response Center was notified, as per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements, Hill said. However, Johnson County Emergency Management was not notified, according to Marilyn Connolly, county emergency management coordinator. Connolly contacted Belle Fourche when she learned of the incident, and she said that the company is now aware that they are required to inform the county emergency department after an oil spill of this size.
BLM did not alert the public or the media immediately following the incident because the remote location of the spill did not pose an immediate threat to public safety, Venhuizen said.
“We take that as a lesson learned. We review each incident separately,” Venhuizen said. “We definitely took that under advisement and are looking at being more proactive on the media side of it.”
The Powder River Basin Resource Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request on the spill, but the BLM said it could not release documents until after they had completed their own post-incident investigation, said Jill Morrison, the group’s organizer.
News of the missing permit comes to light two months after the Poplar Pipeline, part of True’s Bridger Pipeline system, leaked into the Yellowstone River and polluted local drinking water. The Jan. 17 spill occurred about 10 miles from Glendive, Montana, and remediation is ongoing, according to the Montana DEQ.