A major oil pipeline spill in North Dakota remained undetected by Tesoro for days
A major oil pipeline spill in North Dakota remained undetected by Tesoro for days.

After discovering that the public, legislature, and governor were all kept in the dark for more than a week about a major oil spill on a North Dakota wheat farm, lawmakers wanted answers on Monday. But the state department that kept news of the 20,600-barrel spill to itself had more spin than answers. (The feds also withheld the information because they were being furloughed.)

David Glatt, head of the environmental section of the North Dakota Health Department, defended his department’s secrecy during the Energy Development and Transmission Committee hearing. He said the 11-day delay in notifying the public about the spill was a proper response, adding that the spill happened in the “best place it could’ve occurred.”

But by Tuesday, following a closed-door meeting between the governor’s staff and different state departments, some officials were sounding more contrite. From the Bismarck Tribune:

North Dakota’s Oil and Gas Division director Lynn Helms said the department’s stance is that the Tesoro Corp. pipeline was a rural pipeline under federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration jurisdiction. …

The state doesn’t have any laws requiring public notification of spills.

“We’re looking at some of those other triggers, such as overall volume,” Helms said.

Helms declined to put a specific threshold on how many barrels it might take to trigger a public alert on a spill. He said much smaller spills, if near a river or other water source, can do far more damage.

Don Morrison, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, called any improved availability of information to the public a positive development.

Meanwhile, news emerged on Tuesday that the 20-year-old pipeline only started carrying crude fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken shale deposit in August. Safety tests performed early in September detected a problem with the pipeline, but Inform reports that the results hadn’t been provided to Tesoro officials by the time the spill occurred. Naturally, they used the potentially leaky pipeline while awaiting the test results. I mean, what are the chances?