The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

August 26, 2011

Continental takes issue with killing migratory birds charges

FARGO, N.D. — Continental Resources is taking issue with charges filed against the company in federal court alleging the killing of migratory birds that died after landing in oil waste pits in western North Dakota.

Continental is one of seven oil companies charged in the case. The charges involve 28 dead birds that were discovered in oil waste pits between May 6 and June 20. The maximum penalty for each charge under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is six months in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Timothy Purdon, the U.S. Attorney for North Dakota, said in a statement Thursday the allegations “should be troubling to those interested in preserving North Dakota’s rich heritage of hunting and fishing and to the many oil companies to work hard to follow the laws protecting our wildlife.” He declined to comment further on the matter.

Also charged in the case are Slawson Exploration Co. Inc., of Wichita, Kan.; ConocoPhillips Co., of Houston; Newfield Production Co., of Houston; Brigham Oil and Gas LP, of Williston, N.D.;  Fidelity Exploration & Production Co., of Denver; and Petro Hunt LLC, of Dallas.

Brian Engel, vice president of public affairs for Continental Resources, said the company was not required to net its pits involved in the allegations, which were located at a single site in Williams County, N.D.

“On that location we were not required to net the reserve pits,” Engel said. “We finished that location and moved within the 90-day period as required by North Dakota law.”

Engel said the allegations against Continental involve one migratory bird death, and the bird in question died four months ago. Engel said the company was never notified of the alleged violation.

The so-called reserve pits are used during oil and gas drilling operations. Once a well is completed, companies are required to clean up the pit, and it must be covered with netting if it’s open for more than 90 days. None of the pits referenced in the charges were netted, but it’s unclear how many of them were open beyond three months, documents show.

“We were unaware of any issues until the press release was released yesterday,” Engel said. “We are extremely disappointed with the way this alleged incident is being handled. We believe it was done for sensationalism.

“Continental has been in business for 43 years and we have always had a great working relationship with our regulatory agencies,” Engel said. “Protecting health, safety and the environment wherever we work is a core value and a high priority for Continental personnel.”

Tim Rasmussen, spokesman for Fidelity, said the company is aware of the allegations.

“We intend to fully cooperate with the agencies through this process,” he said. “Beyond that, there’s not much we can say at this point until we get further information.”

Court documents show all seven companies previously had been cited for similar violations.

The increasing number of dead birds has state officials debating whether to ban waste oil pits and require companies to recycle liquid drilling waste.

Authorities say a dozen dead birds were found in Slawson pits, including three mallards, two gadwalls, two blue-winged teal, one redhead, one common golden eye, one northern pintail and two birds of indeterminate species.

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