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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Oil and Gas Development

Approximately 1,600 oil and gas wells surround the park and about 600 wells are planned over the next 10 years (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 1995). Park resource managers need to be aware of oil and gas operations within a regional context. In many cases, developing cooperative monitoring efforts with other agencies is an effective strategy.

Facilities associated with the oil and gas development include: producing, shut-in, plugged, and saltwater injection wells; petroleum, gas, and saltwater pipelines; active reserve and buried reserve pits; and, storage tanks, as well as an extensive network of roads. Pipelines cross the Little Missouri River, and wells and pipelines are located in river and stream floodplains upstream from park boundaries. A high potential for oil or chemical contamination of the river and aquifers exists from this development. Table 8 summarizes the potential and general effects of oil and gas activities on water resources. , pollutants in the ground water are commonly retained for decades or centuries. It is for this reason that pollution of ground water resources can be considered a significant, irreversible, and irretrievable loss. The contamination of the aquifers could also result in eventual contamination of surface waters that are in hydraulic contact with the shallow aquifers.

Once drilling and pumping for oil are underway, the potential exists for spills and leaks of drilling fluids, muds, oil, or produced wastes. The drilling fluids and natural ground water encountered in the drilling process are often high in dissolved salt content (especially sodium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride) and sometimes contain heavy metals such as barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, strontium, and zinc (National Park Service 1987a; Irwin et al. 1997).

The largest volume of waste associated with oil and gas exploration activities is produced water. Most is saline. The total dissolved solids in produced water ranges from several hundreds parts per million (ppm) to over 150,000 ppm. Seawater, by comparison, is typically 35,000 ppm. Bicarbonates, carbonates, sulfates, sulfides, and oil may also be associated with produced waters and drilling fluids. The potential also exists for spills or leaks of such substances as detergents, fuels, machinery fluids, and toxic chemicals. Trucks transporting oil or produced water pose further spill hazards, and storage tanks or pumping stations sometimes rupture. Herbicides sprayed for brush control along pipelines and other cleared areas can enter streams by way of storm runoff. Finally, fallout of airborne particles (such as dust) can contribute to water pollution problems.

Oil and gas development can cause a population decrease in the aquatic flora and fauna. The most likely effect directly linked with these mortalities is associated with chemical spills and leaks, where chemical contaminants find their way into water courses. There is sufficient field and laboratory evidence that demonstrates both acute and lethal toxicity and long-term sublethal toxicity of oils and petroleum distillates to aquatic organisms (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1986). Depending upon the type of petroleum compound, and the flora and fauna involved, oils and petroleum distillates can be extremely toxic to fish. Also, certain petroleum products which appear to have no soluble poisonous substances, become deadly when emulsified by agitation, as would be the case in the often turbulent stream flows of the Little Missouri River. Oily substances are harmful to aquatic life by: 1) adhering to gills and interfering with respiration; 2) coating and destroying algae and other plankton; 3) coating the stream bottom and destroying benthic organisms; and, 4) direct toxic action on aquatic flora and fauna.

Considering the potential adverse impact to park water resources, the park needs a cost-effective, consistent, and cooperatively-based water quality monitoring program of both surface and ground waters. The Water Resources Division of the National Park Service has recently developed draft standard protocols for monitoring contamination from oil and gas fields (VanMouwerik 1998). These protocols should assist in the development of a water quality monitoring program. Based on the risk potential of existing or planned oil and gas operations, a compliance monitoring program is also needed that would include regular tracking inspection records of responsible agencies and photo documentation of oil and gas facilities. Park contacts should be placed on notification lists for development permits for mining operations and oil and gas operations, as well as state public notice lists. Project Statement THRO-N-200.001 (Appendix C) is designed to address these needs.

In addition, the park needs a plan for swift and substantive response to release of hazardous substances such as oil, saltwater, and hazardous chemicals. Project Statement THRO-N-200.005 addresses this need.

Oil and Gas Resources

Theodore Roosevelt National Park lies in the heart of the Williston Basin, a very successful oil and gas development area. Primarily due to this oil and gas development, the character of the area surrounding the park has changed greatly in the last two decades. Numerous oil fields surround all units of the park and contain active, shut-in, plugged, and saltwater injection wells; petroleum, gas, and saltwater pipelines; active and buried reserve pits; and, storage tanks. Pipelines cross the Little Missouri River, and wells and pipelines are located in river and stream floodplains upstream from the park. The potential exists for oil and/or chemical spills or well blow-outs that could cause both surface and ground water contamination in the immediate area as well as stream-carried pollution that could enter the park.

Historically, exploration in western North Dakota was targeted at oil production, which resulted in some associated gas discoveries. As early as 1909, a total of 25 gas wells had been drilled (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 1995). The first recorded oil well in the area was in 1920. This well was plugged as a dry hole, but was finished at a depth some 6,000 feet above potential oil production. Commercial gas wells were drilled and in production in the 1930s and l940s. The discovery well for the Williston Basin was the Iverson Well in Williams County, initially drilled in 1950; it was plugged back and completed in several different producing formations over a period of about 10 years.

A 1992 report by the North Dakota Geological Survey on oil and gas development potential of the Little Missouri National Grasslands contains a historic breakdown, by formation and year, of all drilling activity in the vicinity of the park between the first field discovery in 1951 and 1993 (cited in U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 1995). During this time, 113 wells were drilled, an average of three wells per year. In the Southern Little Missouri and Cedar River National grasslands, 50 percent of these drilled wells were wildcats and 50 percent were development wells. Of the wildcat wells, one percent produced oil. Of the development wells, 30 percent were successful producers.

There are hundreds of oil and gas wells within 6 or 7 miles of the boundaries of the three park units. These wells are predominately on areas of the Little Missouri National Grasslands and on private land (National Park Service 1990). Oil and gas wells and associated equipment are situated quite close to park boundaries -- 100 yards or less at some locations. The greatest concentrations and closest wells are situated to the north and northwest and to the south of the South Unit, and within the area adjacent to the Elkhorn Unit. Oil and gas are being produced all around the North Unit, but wells are not as close nor in the same concentration that is evident around the South Unit.

In general, when a developed well is economically feasible, the resources needed to continue production will be committed to that use for 30 to 50 years (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 1995). Over the years, many existing and some newly drilled oil wells will no longer be profitable to operate. These wells will be plugged and the sites abandoned and reclaimed.

Potential oil and gas development in western North Dakota may be classified as quite high relative to other areas containing these same resources. The potential for additional development of oil and gas resources is rated as high in some areas near the park, especially in the Knutson and Government Creek watersheds in the South Unit (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management 1995; Figure ~ in pocket).

Source National Park Service, Water Resouces Division


Carlson, C. 1985. Geology of McKenzie County , North Dakota . North Dakota Geological Survey, Bulletin 80-Part I. Bismarck , ND .

Fenneman, N. 1931. Physiography of the western United States . McGraw Hill Co., New York , NY .

National Park Service. 1997. Baseline water quality data inventory and analysis, Theodore Roosevelt National Park . Water Resources Division, Technical Report NPSIWRD/NRTR97/100. Fort Collins , CO .

National Park Service. 1990. Land protection plan. Theodore Roosevelt National Park , Medora , ND .

National Park Service. 1987. General management plan/development concept plans. Theodore Roosevelt National Park , Medora , ND .

Omodt, H., 0. Johnsgard, D. Pattersous, and 0. Olsen. 1968. The major soils of North Dakota . North Dakota State University , Agricultural Experiment Station, Fargo , ND .

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1986. Quality criteria for water. Washington , D.C.

U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. 1995. Final oil and gas leasing environmental impact statement, Southern Little Missouri and Cedar River National Grasslands. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Custer National Forest , Billings , MT.

VanMouwerik, M. 1998. Personal communication. National Park Service, Water Resources Division, Fort Collins, CO.

updated on 08/06/2007  I   http://nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/thro/oil_gas.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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