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Oil-laced mud spills into northern Oklahoma creek after heavy rainfall

 A pit with brown mud in the bottom. The mud has black patches. Around the pit, shrubby sandhills.
Pedro Ramirez, Jr.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A pit containing dried drilling mud.

Cleanup is underway after about 42,000 gallons of mud containing crude oil and other drilling waste spilled out of a pit and into a northern Oklahoma creek.

Not all of it is crude oil. The pit holds drilling mud and leftover materials from boring oil wells. A company called Nemaha Environmental Services stores these materials near Kremlin, which is just northeast of Enid, until they can be used or disposed of.

But when the area received heavy rains last week, the mud pit took on water. The resulting slurry either leaked through or spilled over the pit’s dike and into Nine Mile Creek. Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesperson Matt Skinner says it’s rare for heavy rains to cause a spill of this size.

Skinner says it’s been tricky to estimate how much drilling mud spilled from the pit. But using the previous levels of the pit and rainfall totals, the OCC’s latest estimate puts the spill around 1000 barrels of material — about 42,000 gallons.

Skinner says the pit is secure, and the spill has been contained along three miles of the creek. The cleanup crew is using pumps and absorbent booms to remove the oily mud and had recovered about 20,000 gallons by Monday afternoon.

Skinner says there’s no way of knowing how long it will take to recover the rest. Nemaha, the company that operates the pit, is responsible for paying for the cleanup.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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