Mas­sive 2013 oil spill in North Dakota still not fully cleaned up

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JAMES MACPHER­SON

BISMARCK, N.D. | Three years and three months later, a mas­sive oil spill in North Dakota still isn’t fully cleaned up. The com­pany re­spon­si­ble hasn’t even set a date for com­ple­tion.

Though crews have been work­ing around the clock to deal with the Te­soro Corp. pipe­line break, which hap­pened in a wheat field in Septem­ber 2013, less than a third of the 840,000 gal­lons that spilled has been re­cov­ered — or ever will be, North Dakota Health De­part­ment en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist Bill Suess said.

A farmer, Steve Jenk­ins, who’d smelled the crude oil for days, dis­cov­ered the spill in his north­west­ern North Dakota field near Tioga — his com­bines’ tires were cov­ered in it.

While the near­est home was a half-mile away and the state said no wa­ter sources were con­tam­i­nated and no wildlife hurt, one of the largest on­shore oil spills recorded in the U.S. serves for some as a cau­tion­ary ex­am­ple, es­pe­cially given a re­cent pipe­line break about 150 miles south and on­go­ing de­bates over the four-state Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line.

“What hap­pened to us hap­pened and we can’t go back,” said Patty Jensen, Steve’s wife.

This month’s pipe­line break in Belfield, which belched an es­ti­mated 176,000 gal­lons of oil into a creek that feeds into the Lit­tle Mis­souri River, a trib­u­tary of the Mis­souri River, re­ally ran­kled her.

“But I get re­ally up­set when I hear of a new one and I won­der what is be­ing done to pre­vent these spills,” Mrs. Jensen said.

Both the Te­soro break and the Belfield break oc­curred on 6-inch steel pipe­lines — a part of a large net­work pipe­lines that criss­cross western North Dakota’s oil patch. By com­par­i­son, the Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line is made of 30-inch steel and will carry nearly 20 mil­lion gal­lons daily.

The Te­soro spill was not far from where oil was first dis­cov­ered in North Dakota in 1951. The Tex­as­based com­pany and fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have said a light­ning strike may have caused the 2013 rup­ture in the pipe­line, which runs from Tioga to a rail fa­cil­ity out­side of Colum­bus, near the Cana­dian bor­der.

North Dakota reg­u­la­tors ini­tially thought just 750 bar­rels of oil was in­volved in the spill, but later up­dated the amount ex­po­nen­tially. They also ex­panded the af­fected acreage from about 7 — the size of seven foot­ball fields — to about 13 acres, Mr. Suess said.

The cleanup has cost Te­soro more than $49 mil­lion to date and is ex­pected to top $60 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to re­cent fil­ings to the state.

Te­soro spokes­woman Destin Sin­gle­ton said she could not im­me­di­ately con­firm the num­bers, and noted the cleanup com­ple­tion date re­mains un­known. The pipe­line was mon­i­tored re­motely, but the com­pany has said the spill wasn’t de­tected.

Crews have had to dig as deep as 50 feet to re­move hun­dreds of thou­sands of tons of oil-tainted soil, Mr. Suess said. The com­pany has now switched to spe­cial equip­ment that cooks hy­dro­car­bons from crude soaked soil in a process called ther­mal des­orp­tion be­fore putting it back in place.

The Dec. 5 spill on the Belle Fourche pipe­line also was dis­cov­ered by a landowner. Crude oil mi­grated about al­most 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and fouled an un­known amount of pri­vate and U.S. For­est Ser­vice land along the wa­ter­way. Mr. Suess said it ap­pears no oil got as far as the Lit­tle Mis­souri River, and no drink­ing wa­ter sources were threat­ened.

It’s not yet clear why mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment didn’t de­tect the leak, ac­cord­ing to Wendy Owen, a spokes­woman for Casper, Wy­oming-based True Cos., which op­er­ates the pipe­line.

The Dakota Ac­cess pipe­line builder, Texas-based En­ergy Trans­fer Partners, has said the project will be safe and that work­ers re­motely mon­i­tor­ing the pipe­line will be able to shut it down if a leak is de­tected.

Ms. Owen said didn’t know how long it would take to clean the Belle Fourche spill, given that win­try weather was slow­ing down the progress, or how much it would cost.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Te­soro Corp. pipe­line break that spilled more than 20,000 bar­rels of oil into a Tioga, North Dakota, wheat field still is not fully cleaned up three years and three months af­ter it hap­pened.

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