WILLISTON, N.D. — A lightning strike caused an explosion, fire and fluid spill at a saltwater disposal site in North Dakota’s oil patch, according to the state’s Department of Health.
In a statement released Tuesday, the department said a June 1 lightning strike “completely destroyed” a saltwater disposal site located approximately 12 miles northwest of the city of Williston in North Dakota’s western oil patch.
Department of Health environmental geologist Kris Roberts said the lightning struck above-ground tanks containing saltwater.
The tanks were “burned up and blown away,” he said.
An incident report on the Department of Health website said that the site was one mile away from the nearest occupied structure and two miles away from the nearest water well.
Also called brine, saltwater is a byproduct of oil production. It is between 10 and 30 times saltier than seawater. The fluid is considered an environmental hazard by the state and is disposed of in wells.
The Department of Health said the incident resulted in a spill of approximately 1,200 barrels, or 50,400 gallons, of saltwater. Roberts said that as of Tuesday afternoon, 995 barrels had been recovered.
Houston-based Oasis Petroleum owns the site where the incident occurred.
Richard Robuck, Oasis’ Vice President of Finance, said lightning prevention measures had been taken on the site and that the company was examining what exactly happened.
Robuck said that while there was a tank containing oil skimmed from the brine wastewater on site, it was the saltwater tanks that were hit and exploded.
“It was a big bolt of lightning, that’s really the cause of the destruction,” he said.
Robuck said a drilled well used to dispose of saltwater on-site remains operational, though the above-ground equipment has been destroyed. Oasis plans to continue using the site in the future after the cleanup concludes and new equipment is brought in.