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Pipeline rupture spills 176,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota

A ruptured oil pipeline in North Dakota, US, has spilled more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into the soil and the Little Missouri River tributary, state officials estimate.

A segment of the Belle Fourche pipeline began leaking earlier in December, contaminating nearly 6 miles of the Ash Coulee Creek before cleanup workers contained it, Bill Suess, an environmental scientist from the North Dakota Department of Health, told the Associated Press.

Of the 176,000 gallons spilled, 46,200 are estimated to have ended up on the hillside along which the pipeline runs, while the remaining 130,200 gallons spilled into the river.

Approximately 37,000 gallons of the oil have been recovered so far and cleanup crews are advancing along the pipeline 100 yards a day, but freezing temperatures and snow are complicating the operation.

The incident happened 150 miles west of Cannon Ball, where thousands of protesters have spent months resisting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, which they fear may contaminate the lands and waters of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Energy Transfer Partners, the Dakota Access pipeline developer, claims leak detection equipment would prevent any major disaster from happening.

However, in the Belle Fourche case, the developer True Companies leak detection equipment failed to alert the operator of the leak.

Wendy Owen, spokeswoman for True Companies, told the Associated Press that it was not yet clear why the monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, but she said the spill was plugged immediately after it was discovered.

The pipeline is buried on a hill near Ash Coulee creek, and the "hillside sloughed," which may have ruptured the line, she said.

"That is our number one theory, but nothing is definitive," Owen said. "We have several working theories and the investigation is ongoing."

True Companies has a history of oil spills in the region, reporting three-dozen spills totalling 320,000 gallons of oil since 2006, according to the Associated Press.

Last week, the US Army Corp of Engineers said it would deny Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of the $3.7 billion (€3.5bn) Dakota Access pipeline.

President-elect Donald Trump has voided his support for Dakota Access, while 5,000 people are still remaining on the construction grounds protesting the project.

This article was written by Ilari Kauppila, editor at Fluid Handling International