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Fire destroys oil storage tanks

Posted 1/06/15 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

On Jan. 1, a call came into law enforcement at approximately 9:25 p.m., reporting an explosion and fire at an Enbridge-owned property, roughly 9.25 miles north of Alexander, off U.S. Highway 85.
The explosion took place when one of Tidal Energy, LLC’s truck operators was on site loading crude oil. Tidal Energy, LLC is a subsidiary of Enbridge, currently leasing property from the Canadian-based company.
The Alexander Fire Department, Arnegard Fire Department, Williston Rural Fire Department, first responders,  McKenzie County Sheriff’s deputies, and McKenzie County Emergency Services Manager, all responded to the incident.
According to Lance Powell, Alexander Fire chief and Karolin Rockvoy, McKenzie County Emergency Services manager, Tidal Energy, LLC did not have a work permit,  an emergency operation plan in place, or a water source to extinguish the fire. Because Tidal Energy, LLC did not have an emergency operation plan, firefighters and first responders had to follow their own safety plan.
“It’s dangerous,” said Rockvoy. “These first responders are having to follow a general safety plan because this company didn’t have a safety plan or a permit. Their guys didn’t know the first thing to do. The first responders are putting their lives in jeopardy and I don’t want anyone hurt, especially my first responders. That’s my number one goal - to keep them safe.”
McKenzie County safety officials want the public to know what happens when there is an oil fire or explosion, and they want oil companies to not only know what to do, but to work with the counties in obtaining the necessary permits, have an emergency operation plan established, and a functioning water source on site.
“None of these guys have permits here,” said Powell. “I put stop orders up back in October, and only two companies complied and got permits. The seven others did nothing and they still don’t have permits. And I know that Tidal Energy, LLC hasn’t even gone through the state because they aren’t even on the state’s map. It’s frustrating when these companies come out here, don’t get permits, and think they can do whatever they want. I think they should be shut down until they go through all the proper channels.”
The Alexander Fire Department remained on scene for the entirety of the incident, and a sheriff’s deputy remained on scene, all throughout the night to ensure the public’s safety. Power Fuels initially hauled in 12 trucks of water to help extinguish the fire and kept four more tanks - owned by Bridger - a different oil company, 10 feet in front of the eight burning tanks, cooled so they didn’t also explode.
But by Friday morning, Jan. 2, at approximately 5:30 a.m., the four tanks in front of Tidal Energy’s eight burning tanks, caught fire. The Alexander Fire Department was able to put the tops of those four tanks out and continue keeping them cooled, but due to substantial damage, those tanks will also have to be replaced.
“The Alexander Fire Department did a heck of a job,” said Rockvoy.
According to an Enbridge employee on site during the fire, the company wasn’t scheduled to ship anything, so there was not a great deal of crude oil in those four additional holding tanks, only about seven feet of oil in each tank.
Because there was no water source on site, by Friday morning several more water trucks were ordered by  Rockvoy, and roughly 20 to 25 trucks of water would be used in total to extinguish the fire and keep four tanks of oil cooled down, so they wouldn’t explode as well. The water was brought in from the rural water depot.
There is speculation that this explosion was caused  by operator error, but a full investigation is underway to determine the actual cause.
According to Powell, there were no reports of injury to anyone, although the blast was felt in a number of residences located in Alexander, about nine miles away. Portions of U.S. Highway 85  and 39th Street were closed Thursday night to motorists, but were reopened Friday morning.
Tidal Energy, LLC hired their own safety company, On Site Safety, out of Williston, to come on site Friday morning. In conjunction with the Alexander Fire Department, they applied a foam substance to contain the blaze, which was put out by early Friday afternoon.
“When using foam, it will contaminate,” said Rockvoy. “So there will subsequently have to be cleanup.”
Rockvoy recommended to several Enbridge and Tidal Energy employees on site that a vac truck, and possibly a sand truck, be brought in to assist in the clean-up process. A vac truck was brought in early Friday afternoon. Rockvoy then requested to be a part of the after-action report to better adhere to the public and safety concerns for McKenzie County.
“I don’t want this to keep continuing in the county,” said Rockvoy.