News Feature | March 6, 2014

Hundreds Of Barrels Of Fracking Wastewater Spilled In North Dakota

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


An energy company in North Dakota leaked fracking wastewater and oil from a well this month, raising concerns about groundwater contamination and other environmental hazards. 

The well, owned by Whiting Petroleum, was initially "leaking 200 barrels a day," Reuters reported, citing state regulators. 

"All the oil has been contained to the location. The well is still not under control. It may take a couple more days," Lynn Helms, the head of the state's Department of Mineral Resources, said at the time of the leak. 

"This is a large one and also a health and human risk, it's a big one," Helms said in the news report. 

In a separate article, Reuters explained what happened: "The well lost control after a blowout preventer failed and was leaking between 50 and 70 barrels per day of fracking fluid that contains chemicals, water and sand, a company spokesman said." 

"A blowout typically occurs when an unexpected burst of high pressure comes up the well, causing a loss of control," the report said. 

The company holds that "no liquids entered the water " in the environment, Reuters said. 

The harms posed by fracking wastewater are not fully understood. "The specific chemical makeup of that water is a large part of why the practice is so controversial, as public disclosure of what exactly is used in the water is largely self-regulated by the fracking companies," ThinkProgress, a publication of the liberal Center for American Progress, argued.

EnergyFromShale, an advocacy voice for the energy industry, gave its own explanation of fracking fluid on its website

"Water accounts for about 90 percent of the fracturing mixture and sand accounts for about 9.5 percent. Chemicals account for the remaining one half of one percent of the mixture. There are several ways oil and natural gas companies manage the use of fracturing fluids, depending on what specifically is in them, the presence of usable groundwater or surface waters, geography, and local, state, and federal regulations," the site said. 

Image credit: "Snake Hill Shale Formation," © 2011 P_R_F, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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