- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - An early morning lightning strike caused a fire at a saltwater disposal facility near the tiny northwestern North Dakota town of Ross.

North Dakota Department of Health environmental geologist Kris Roberts said lightning hit the site owned by Fort Worth, Texas-based Basic Energy Services at 4:30 a.m. Friday.

Mountrail County emergency services administrator Don Longmuir said the Stanley Fire Department responded to the scene and waited on standby until storage tanks at the well burned down. He said the Fire Department was then able to put out the blaze by around 8:30 a.m.

In a news release Friday afternoon, the state’s Department of Mineral Resources said 580 barrels of oil were released in the incident. The statement added that the majority of the oil was burned off during the fire. About 1,800 barrels of saltwater were also spilled, but the department said the liquid was contained on location.

As of Friday afternoon, the agency described the site as “still smoldering.”

Roberts said one worker was on site at the time of the incident but was not injured.

Basic Energy Services did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Saltwater - also called brine - is a naturally occurring byproduct of oil production that is between 10 and 30 times saltier than seawater. The state considers it an environmental hazard, and it must be disposed of in specially designated wells.

Saltwater in disposal wells is skimmed to collect residual amounts of oil and gas. Longmuir said the residual oil and gas become volatile when storage tanks are struck by lightning.

On June 1, a lightning strike destroyed an Oasis Petroleum saltwater disposal site near Williston and spilled 1,200 barrels of the fluid.

Department of Mineral Resources public information officer Alison Ritter said there are currently 443 saltwater disposal wells in North Dakota. She added that in 2013, North Dakota wells produced nearly 350 million barrels of saltwater. That year the state produced 313.5 million barrels of oil.

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