3 Million Gallons of Oily Saltwater Just Spilled in North Dakota… Wait, What?

January 23, 2015 Updated: July 18, 2015

About three million gallons of saltwater used for fracking spilled in North Dakota, according to reports on Friday.

The saltwater, known as brine, is an unwanted product of oil and natural gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. It’s saltier than sea-water, and it may contain residue from the process and petroleum.

According to The Associated Press, two creeks have been affected in the spill. Meanwhile, water testing shows that saltwater contamination from the pipeline spill has reached the Missouri River.

The North Dakota environmental head said Friday he doesn’t expect the brine to harm wildlife or drinking water.

The pipeline is operated by Summit Midstream Partners, which issued a statement on Thursday saying the company’s “full and undivided attention,” according to Al Jazeera America.

The pipeline spill was first detected Jan. 6 around 15 miles north of Williston. Dave Glatt, who is head of the North Dakota Department of Health’s environmental health section, told the network: “This is not something we want to happen in North Dakota.”

In this photo taken Jan. 12, 2015, crews dig up land at a saltwater spill site near Blacktail Creek outside Williston, N.D. A North Dakota health official called the 70,000 barrel spill the state's largest during the state's current oil boom. (AP Photo/Williston Herald, Zack Nelson)
In this photo taken Jan. 12, 2015, crews dig up land at a saltwater spill site near Blacktail Creek outside Williston, N.D. A North Dakota health official called the 70,000 barrel spill the state’s largest during the state’s current oil boom. (AP Photo/Williston Herald, Zack Nelson)

Glatt, however, said the spill doesn’t threaten drinking water or human health. Farmers in the area have been able to keep their livestock from drinking from the two creeks.

According to a report from Bloomberg News, the oil industry calls the liquid residue “saltwater,” but it doesn’t resemble normal ocean water. The water is approximately five to eight times saltier than the water found in the sea, and it contains heavy metals such as “chromium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, arsenic, selenium, silver, cadmium, antimony, mercury, thallium and lead,” according to the website–or possibly radioactive materials

“You don’t want to be drinking this stuff,” Bill Kappel, a hydrogeologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey, told the network.

During a spill in North Dakota in mid-2014, the water was able to kill vegetation and contaminated the soil.