The only thing louder than the driving rain on April 24 was a series of booms followed by the wail of emergency vehicles speeding south on Highway 22. Around 2 p.m. that afternoon, a tank battery exploded at Master Enterprises 1 saltwater disposal site about 4 miles southwest of Manning on 17th St West.
By Jennifer Strange
For the DC Herald
Approximately six of eight tanks caught fire, said Alison Ritter, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources’ Oil and Gas Division (OGD).
The explosion was likely caused by a lightning strike, Ritter said.
“The official report filled out by QC Environmental Services, Inc. says they believe that’s what caused the explosion,” Ritter said. The oil company, which owns the saltwater disposal well, notified OGD of the incident immediately and filed a report within 24 hours. A state OGD inspector was sent to the site Monday morning, but wasn’t able to get very close due to smoldering fire, said Ritter. The inspector returned on Tuesday.
A total of 640 barrels of oil and 640 barrels of water were consumed by the fire, said Dunn County Emergency Manager Denise Brew. Brew said the wet conditions and steady rain helped control the burn.
Late Sunday afternoon, the explosion was still emitting a large black cloud of oily smoke into the air and a fire could be seen from a nearby hillside, where an oilfield services truck was blocking traffic. Flashing red lights of emergency vehicles were also visible through the smoke.
The caravan of emergency responders included West Dunn Fire Department crews and trucks from Killdeer and Dunn Center, Killdeer Area Ambulance and Dunn County law enforcement officers.
A water tanker driver was at the well when it exploded, said Brew. He ran for safety and immediately called for help. The truck driver was not injured in the explosion.
“He did the 911 call, which is great,” said Brew. “At the top of the priority list was that there were no injuries.”
Brew was informed of the emergency by a firefighter and went immediately to the site.
“It was one of those very hot, very intense flames,” she said. “I don’t know how to word it other than at first you’re frightened and then you get that feeling of complete confidence in the emergency responders. I knew they would help make sure everything and everyone was okay.”
While the probable cause of the explosion— lightning—is considered a natural disaster, the result was an industrial fire.
“The saltwater isn’t just plain water, there are chemicals in it and there was oil stored there also, so that’s what exploded and burned,” Brew said. A count of how many tanks held saltwater and how many held skim oil is not immediately available, said Ritter.
Standard operating proacedure in a situation like this is to keep people out of harm’s way, to stay on high alert for ongoing danger and to stand by and monitor the burn, said Brew.
“Our fire departments are not certified hazmat responders,” Brew said. “They are trained to respond if a life is threatened, but they’re not going to risk their people in something they don’t have the equipment and training to handle.”
To mitigate dangers posed by hazardous materials at the site of an explosion or fire, oil companies send their own safety officers, said Brew.
“It’s a very collaborative effort among our emergency responders and the oil company safety officers,” said Brew. “They are very clear that they want the law enforcement and local fire departments to help with the preventive part and wait till it is safe to get in there and do any fire control.”
The fire’s damage was greatly decreased by spring rains.
“We were so fortunate it was wet,” Brew said. “If it had been dry, it would have turned into a very large-scale, out-of-control blaze.”
Inspections show that some materials did leak outside the boundaries of the oil pad. The company will need to do some additional testing to make sure everything is cleaned up, said Ritter. OGD will monitor the company to confirm clean-up meets the state’s requirements in a timely manner.
In the meantime, the remaining tanks will be sealed and the disposal well is not open for active injections of saltwater, Ritter said.
“Our inspector is working with company reps to determine the full extent of the damage,” said Ritter. “From what my inspector told me, it sounds like the damage was pretty devastating.”
Ritter said that weather-related load restrictions may hamper clean-up efforts.