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Associated Press, Published December 24 2012

North Dakota oil well temporarily plugged

BISMARCK – Officials have temporarily plugged a well that spewed a geyser of oil, gas and salt water up to 95 feet into the air for days, spreading contamination more than a mile downwind from the site near Watford City.

The blowout happened Friday when a drilling crew lost control of the well. Keith Schmidt, spokesman for well owner Newfield Exploration Co., said a crew from Wild Well Control was able to install the temporary plug Sunday night.

Officials don’t yet know how much oil was released.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the state Health Department, told the Bismarck Tribune that the initial height of the blowout was caused by intense pressure from the well. The blowout was further complicated because it forced the well pipe back out of the well and that became caught in the rigging.

High winds helped spread the contamination downwind, where it covered a large area of farmland. It was unclear what effect the oil, gas and salt water would have on the frozen landscape.

Roberts said he didn’t know if any hydraulic fracturing fluids were also released. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is already a cause of headaches for landowners in the area; the process employs the use of pressurized fluid and sand to break open oil-bearing rock miles underground, and companies use various chemical concoctions to achieve that effect.

Roberts was taking samples to identify the spilled fluids. He expected to be on site until Monday.

This is the second North Dakota well blowout this month. A Slawson Exploration Co. well near Lake Sakakawea spilled about 1,500 barrels of oil, gas and salt water. The company said most of the fluids have been recovered and an environmental cleanup is under way.

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