A 2014 event at an oil well serves as a reminder about the importance of properly secured oil tanks and wells. Tank inspection and strong spill prevention plans are critical during spring flooding season.

Flood waters caused by ice jams in the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers confluence area overwhelmed an oil well near Williston, North Dakota. A tank containing 33 barrels of oil floated from the flood waters, broke a valve, and leaked an estimated 1,400 gallons of crude oil into the floodwater.

After the discovery, authorities reported the spill had been contained by absorbent and containment booms. No other wells in the area (roughly 50) were found damaged. And no oil was detected downstream in the main channel of the Missouri River.

Officials from the State Mineral Resources reportedly issued warnings to all oil companies in the threatened area shortly after the incident. Oil companies were advised to shut their wells, stop pumping, and take precautions against flooding.

According to at least one news report, a spokesman from the oil company stated that they had begun the flood preparations but ran out of time. A mechanical issue with a boat further delayed necessary preparations.

The company was considering a complete shutdown of wells in the area during particular times of the year.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  inspected the spill area and the company’s tanks. Fines and possible other actions against the company were anticipated.

The leak had potential to be much worse, as 50 other tanks were positioned in the flood zone. Another oil company in the region neglected to turn off oil pumps until they were directly instructed to cut power by the authorities. Some believe that had the pumps continued, the tanks would have overflowed.

In this case of spring flooding, quick action meant quick containment. However, a well-executed inspection and protection plan might have prevented the spills altogether.

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