When Tesoro notified state and federal officials of an oil pipeline leak late on Sunday, Sept. 29, the North Dakota Department of Health and other state agencies immediately began a coordinated emergency notification and response process that continues today.
The emergency manager in the county in which the spill was reported was quickly notified on Sept. 30 and the Health Department mobilized a response team that had field staff on site within hours. Tesoro reported that they shut down the pipeline as soon as they were notified of the leak. The pipeline is under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and the state Department of Mineral Resources also were notified the night the leak was reported. Also notified that night was the Environmental Protection Agency's National Response Center.
The following morning, Sept. 30, state Health Department officials were on site, in a wheat field about eight miles northeast of Tioga. Tesoro officials reported that an estimated 750 barrels of oil had leaked from the company's underground pipeline.
Part of the state's immediate response was to identify any potential risks to public safety, surface or ground water supplies or other environmental concerns. Tesoro's report indicated that the spill did not pose any apparent danger to public safety and didn't threaten ground water or surface water supplies. A preliminary assessment by state officials also found no threat to public health or water supplies.
Tesoro constructed berms to contain oil that had reached the surface and began digging trenches to capture oil from the spill. The Health Department issued a permit for Tesoro to burn off oil that reached the surface and directed that the oil company -- with oversight from the Health Department -- continue assessing the extent of the spill. Tesoro hired environmental consultants to perform a complete spill assessment.
On Oct. 8, after a week of completing soil borings and performing other site analysis, Tesoro increased its estimated spill volume to 20,600 barrels of oil and informed all agencies previously notified, including the National Response Center.
Since first notified of the spill, the state's notification and response plan has worked as intended. The Health Department will continue to monitor the spill and will meet with Tesoro to develop and implement a long-term reclamation plan.
(Dave Glatt is Environmental Health Section Chief for the North Daktoa Department of Health.)