Company uses microbes to clean North Dakota oil spills

WATFORD CITY (AP) — A company that operates North Dakota oil pipelines is promoting the use of microbes as an alternative method to clean up spills. Targa Resources is piloting a project in McKenzie County that uses bioremediation, or landfarming, to remove spilled oil and allow the soil to be reused, the Bismarck Tribune reported . “When you spill hydrocarbon, there are naturally occurring microbes — bugs — that immediately start to eat it,” said David McQuade, Targa’s senior environmental director. “I’m adding a bunch more bugs that want to eat it at a faster rate.” The bugs digest any spilled hydrocarbons and convert them to carbon dioxide, water and organic matter. “Naturally, the soil at the end of the process becomes a very, very fertile material, sometimes more fertile than it was before the spill,” McQuade said. The company completed a landfarming project on the Fort Berthold Reservation last year that treated soil contaminated by an oil pipeline spill. Targa received permission from the Tribal Business Council to conduct bioremediation at the company’s New Town facility. Targa reduced the concentration of hydrocarbons in Fort Berthold to a level below the state Department of Health standard, which is 100 milligrams of hydrocarbon per kilogram. The regulatory process to approve a similar project in North Dakota off the reservation takes longer, according to McQuade. He advocated last week for lawmakers to streamline the permitting process so more companies will consider landfarming instead of hauling soil to landfills. “Let’s reuse this instead of just wasting it,” he said. “You can’t get it back out of the landfill once it’s there.” The McKenzie County operation is off the reservation and under the jurisdiction of state health regulators. The Health Department approved a permit in June for Targa to treat less than 10,000 cubic yards of soil at the company’s Alexander crude oil pipeline terminal. The department will require Targa to dispose of the soil in an industrial landfill if the contamination is not removed by Dec. 31, 2019.