EPA studies creek contamination

Mike Erwin |

A handful of Osage County oil producers may need to temporarily suspend operations while federal officials attempt to determine the source of salt water contamination in a creek branch northwest of Pawhuska..

For now, producers in the affected area near Bird Creek will be asked to submit daily production reports to investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA administrator Sam Coleman said.

The contamination that has been detected in the creek appears to be a byproduct of the oil-extracting process, according to the federal official, who said salt water probably is seeping into the creek after it has been separated from the oil and injected back into rock formations.

Pollutants were found in the Bird Creek branch late last summer following discovery of a fish-and-turtle kill. For several months, the slow-moving pool of salt water and oil was being monitored. Since the creek eventually would discharge into Bluestem Lake, the city eventually took the precaution of switching to Lake Pawhuska for its municipal water needs.

The source of the salt water found in Bird Creek still has not been determined, officials said. As a result, more than a mile of pasture land has been declared unuseable.

On April 25, salt water pollution also was discovered in nearby Sand Creek.

Reportedly,an EPA inspector who was studying the Bird Creek situation was shown a broken drainage pipe on a hill at the preserve. Tests were subsequently conducted which indicated the damaged pipe was allowing contaminated water to leak into the freshwater creek.

The environmental experts worked quickly with preserve staff to isolate the pollutants. Pumper trucks were used to take water from a pond beneath the damaged pipe and a series of ditches were dug for collecting the contaminated water until it could be pumped away from the runoff area.

After serving as a primary fresh water supply at Tallgrass Prairie, Sand Creek meanders southeastward across Osage County for approximately 45 miles. It passes north of Pawhuska, through McClintock Boy Scout Camp, across Osage Hills State Park, past Circle Mountain and on to Bartlesville, where it flows into the Caney River about a mile south of the high school.

Officials said the salt water that previously spilled into Sand Creek should cause no problems downstream.

story text created on Tuesday 5/9/2017 at 3:25:11 am by Mike Erwin