WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Officials need to improve communication with residents of North Dakota's booming oil patch during potentially dangerous situations, an emergency manager and residents said, after an oil field service supply facility storing toxic chemicals exploded this week and authorities failed to alert the public for more than six hours.
WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Officials need to improve communication with residents of North Dakota's booming oil patch during potentially dangerous situations, an emergency manager and residents said, after an oil field service supply facility storing toxic chemicals exploded this week and authorities failed to alert the public for more than six hours.
"They should have done more," Aaron Volesky, a resident of Williston, North Dakota said of the slow release of information. No one was injured or killed in the explosion and fire, which started about midnight Monday and raged most of Tuesday. Flights to and from the town of 20,000 people were canceled for several hours Tuesday as a plume of smoke shot hundreds of feet into the air.
The Williston fire was the latest of a lengthening list of emergency incidents involving North Dakota's booming energy sector. They include explosions of oil in train cars, saltwater spills and fires at facilities caused by lightning strikes. State and local agencies have struggled to ensure safety and regulate the rapidly growing industry.
Volesky heard what he thought was thunder and walked outside his home early Tuesday morning to find fireballs and smoke filling the sky. His route to work was blocked later that day without notice.
Officials say the blaze at Red River Supply began about midnight Monday. The first press release about the situation was issued more than six hours later at 6:24 a.m. Tuesday. State records show that the facility stored dozens of chemicals, many of which likely burned in the fire, according to Williams County Emergency Manager Mike Hallesy.
Hallesy said more needs to be done to inform residents quickly about such emergency situations.
Emergency workers had to go door to door to alert the few residents in the voluntary evacuation zone, he said.
Nicole Clarys, who works alongside Volesky near the scene of the fire, said she got her information about the fire on Facebook, where many oil patch residents shared photos and videos of the blaze and explosions.
There were "wild and conflicting stories" on social media about the fire, Hallesy said. His office has a Facebook page, but it has not really been utilized.
"I need a good Facebooker to teach an old dog like me a couple of tricks," he said.
Hallesy said the county and city are looking to start using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. The system is organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and allows push notifications to be sent to cellphones. He said the system had been tested in the past few days.
On Wednesday, North Dakota Department of Health Air Quality Director Terry O'Clair said air quality tests done by his agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Williston after the fire did not find worrying levels of contamination, as was initially feared.
"Results were coming in at levels that were not of concern," he said.
North Dakota Water Quality Director Karl Rockerman told The Associated Press testing of soil and water samples taken from the site were underway Wednesday.