Environment | National

Native Sun News: North Dakota tribe hit with another brine spill

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Tribal environmental watchdogs Lisa and Walter DeVille stand on a bluff overlooking Lake Sakakawea in the Bakken oilfields of the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation, asking for water to be protected from nearby pollution threats. Photo by Talli Nauman

Toxic spill raises red flags on MHA Nation
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

MANDAREE, N.D. –– While tribal environmental watchdogs Walter and Lisa DeVille were calling attention to truckloads of sewage being discharged on the edge of Lake Sakakawea, not far away a frack-water spill dumped 220,000 gallons of toxic brine from the Bakken oilfields on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation (FBIR).

“Be it crude oil, fracking fluids or human waste,” the Three Affiliated Tribes(TAT) of the Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation “are paying a high price for the oil boom – the threat of their land being poisoned by the oil industry,” the broadcast news channel Al Jazeera America said in a May 16 “America Tonight” episode recorded on the reservation.

The DeVilles filed an incident report with the TAT Environment Department describing the sewage disposal on May 8, the same day that Tribal Business Council Chair Mark Fox released a statement that the department was investigating the brine spill from a Crestwood Midstream pipeline.

Both events occurred in the DeVilles’ segment of the reservation, Mandaree, which is the one most highly impacted by the fracking fever in the Bakken Formation centered at FBIR.

“We are concerned about the safety of our Mandaree community,” they said in a letter to the Native Sun News. “If not cleaned, eventually the human waste dumped will leach and seep into Lake Sakakawea.

“Tribal members come out to the Hale Marina or the lake shore with their families and young children to swim, picnic, or fish in the summer time. This is a remote, unmonitored area and the Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River is also our drinking water,” they said. “Any human waste contamination of our drinking water is a serious public health hazard.”

The DeVilles had previously denounced the biggest toxics spill in reservation history, on July 8, 2014, when Crestwood Midstream’s Arrow Pipeline LLC dumped more than 1 million gallons of brine and oil in a Mandaree tributary of the colossal lake formed by the Garrison Dam.

The May 7 spill was in an open field and “did not directly impact any major water source” as the closest one is “an intermittent stream approximately 400-500 meters from the impacted areas,” the tribal administration said in a written statement.

The tribe will “coordinate with both state and federal agencies on the matter, as well as with representatives of the company involved with and responsible for the spill, Crestwood,” it said.

“Tribal response teams and regulatory agencies will continue to investigate and assess the situation, and further information will be released as facts are more clearly identified or established," Tribal EPA Director Edmund Baker said. However, only authorized personnel were to be allowed on site during the incident investigation, he noted.

According to North Dakota law, any spill or discharge of liquid or solid waste that may cause pollution of waters of the state must be reported immediately.

The driver of a white truck labeled “Bakken’s Best Sanitation” told Walter DeVille he was dumping sewage on May 4 and Deville reported this to tribal authorities, he said. When no tribal government action had occurred by May 8, he and his wife raised the questions of:
• Does any tribal regulatory office monitor sanitation companies?
• Which tribal regulatory agency is responsible for environmental investigation of public health hazards?
• Did any tribal program verify that the landowner gave Bakken Best Sanitation permission to dump a truckload - or more - of human waste on their land?
• Was there a written agreement between Bakken Best Sanitation and landowner?

The response was reminiscent of that in the July spill which spoiled a two-mile-long, 200-yard-wide swatch of vegetation on a tributary of the Missouri River, according to the DeVilles: The results of spill monitoring following that incident have never been released to show whether it reached the Missouri River.

“Is public health even a priority of our tribal government?” the Deville’s asked following their May sewage dumping discovery. More accountability is warranted they said.

“When it comes to the dumping of human waste on trust land and the potential contamination of our drinking water, Lake Sakakawea or the Missouri River from human waste, where is the active and strong enforcement?”

(Contact Talli Nauman at Talli Nauman@gmail.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

Join the Conversation