Shortly after a major oil spill in North Dakota went unreported for nearly two weeks, it was revealed that nearly 300 oil pipeline spills that occurred in the state in less than two years have gone unreported. The pipeline spills are among about 750 “oil field incidents” occurring since January 2012 that have gone unreported to the public, the Associated Press reports.
North Dakota is the second-leading oil-producing state in the country, after Texas, according to the AP. Estimates from the state’s Department of Mineral Resources predict that either this year or early next year, North Dakota will be producing more than one million barrels of oil a day.
While state laws do not require oil spills to be reported to the public, many feel that the high incidence of oil production in the state could likely lead to more spills. Oil spills pose a threat to farmland and water – a threat that many residents would prefer to be informed about.
“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 AP after last month’s oil spill, which proved to be one of the largest in North Dakota history. “It’s definitely worrisome. There is a pattern in current state government to not involve the public.”
On September 29, a farmer discovered oil gushing from a six-inch pipeline covering 7.3 acres of land near Tioga. Approximately 20,600 barrels spilled from a 20-year-old pipeline operated by Tesoro Logistics. Tesoro notified the North Dakota Health Department a day after it was informed of the leak; however, it took 11 days for news of the leak to be released to the public.
Even top state officials, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said they were not informed of the pipeline break and subsequent oil spill until October 9.
After news of the most recent spill went public, state officials said they would conduct a policy review on when to publicly report oil spills, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The Health Department also announced that it is testing a website that will keep track of all oil spills reported to the department, and publish that information for the public.
As US oil and natural gas production grows, companies are in need of more pipelines to transport their products, ThinkProgress reports. A recent analysis of oil and gas safety in the US by the Center for Biological Diversity used data from the federal pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The analysis finds that nearly 8,000 pipeline-related incidents, or 300 per year on average, have occurred since 1986, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage. Since 1968, pipeline accidents have resulted in an average of 76,000 barrels of oil spilled per year, the equivalent of 200 barrels a day.
“In most cases, cleanup of pipeline spills is only partially successful, leaving tens of thousands of barrels of oil on our land or in our water,” the Center for Biological Diversity reports. Government data shows that, on average, over 31,000 barrels of oil other spilled substances are not removed after pipeline incidents.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.