A major oil spill in North Dakota was kept a secret from the public and lawmakers, including the governor. The spill and slowness of its disclosure have prompted a policy review by the state, the Bismarck Tribune reports.
Information about the spill was not made public for 11 days after its discovery. News of the spill was only made public after the Associated Press contacted the North Dakota Health Department about it.
“It shows an attitude of our current state government and what they think of the public,” Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council told the Associated Press. “It’s definitely worrisome. There is a pattern in current state government to not involve the public.”
Even top state officials, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said they were not informed about the pipeline break and subsequent oil spill until the evening of October 9.
On September 29, a farmer discovered 20,600 barrels of crude oil had spilled from a six-inch pipeline covering 7.3 acres of land. While harvesting wheat, farmer Steve Jensen noticed his tires were coated in oil and discovered oil spewing from the ground. The spill turned out to be one of the largest in North Dakota history.
“Oil was gushing from the pipeline ‘like a faucet, 4 to 6 inches spewing out,’” Jensen told Reuters.
The spill occurred in a wheat field near Tioga. The 20-year-old leaking pipeline is owned and operated by Tesoro Logistics. The company had not completed installation of a pressure monitoring and automatic shutdown device for the pipeline and was in the process of doing so when the spill occurred, according to Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
An inspection of the pipeline showed a “serious problem;” however, Tesoro did not receive the test results until after the spill occurred, Inforum reports.
Helms said the company conducted a successful pressure test and decided to go ahead and use the old line while waiting for test results to be analyzed by independent experts. The pipeline’s size, pressure, and location “put it beneath the minimum threshold for monitoring and testing requirements,” the Tribune notes.
“It held pressure, so they felt comfortable going ahead and pumping though it, knowing they were going to get these results in a month or two and they would take a look at it,” Helms told Inforum.
Tesoro notified the North Dakota Health Department a day after it was informed of the leak; however, the Health Department failed to notify other state agencies, the governor, or the public. It is also concerning that it took days before the leak was discovered, as oil pipelines should be monitored for loss of pressure or other signs of leakage or malfunction.
The 20-year-old pipeline began transporting Bakken Shale crude in August. According to Tesoro Logistics, the spill is nothing to worry about. “There have been no injuries or known impacts to water, wildlife or the surrounding environment as a result of this incident,” a news release on the company’s website states.
The National Response Center typically reports oil and chemical spills within a day, but the company was prevented from doing its job as a result of the shutdown. As for state agencies, the head of the Health Department’s environmental section, David Glatt, has said his agency’s response to the spill was proper.
The state does not have any law requiring public notification of spills; however, 11 days to notify the public of one of the largest spills in North Dakota history seems excessive to many. Glatt said his agency had people on-site the morning after learning of the leak, and added, “Where it occurred is… the best place it could’ve occurred,” because it wasn’t near any bodies of water.
Cleanup efforts at the site are ongoing and crews have recovered at least 2,165 barrels of oil, according to Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the North Dakota Health Department.
“We expect remediation will restore the land to the same or better condition,” a spokeswoman for Tesoro Logistics told Inforum. “We are developing the remediation plan and timeline.”
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.