Oil spills are serious business.
North Dakota officials need to pressure the federal pipeline agency to determine the viability of a 20-year-old Tesoro pipeline that developed a leak near Tioga last month. Until the safe operation of the line can be ensured, no crude oil should flow through it. The state should insist on enhanced monitoring and regular testing for the line.
North Dakota also should argue for a larger role in providing pipeline oversight within the state.
Further, state officials ought to determine the level of monitoring and inspection of all the crude oil pipelines operating in North Dakota. Records need to be reviewed. Procedures need to be questioned and brought up to present standards.
The Tioga spill amounted to more than 20,000 barrels of oil, the largest spill in the state's history, although it was contained in one farmer's wheat field and did not reach any waterways. It has raised a range of questions about pipeline monitoring, inspections, communications, jurisdiction and public notification.
Most North Dakotans assumed all of the crude oil pipelines in the state are monitored regularly and that the state would have jurisdiction over them. People were wrong on both counts. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has responsibility for the Tesoro Logistic pipeline, and the agency had not required monitoring.
Tesoro had run a "smart pig," a testing device, through the line in 2005 and then on Sept. 10-11. The inspection found deficiencies. However, it's not clear when problems were identified and who was informed and when. More red flags. And there are additional sections of the line that need to be replaced.
The Tesoro cleanup operation looks to be professional and there appears to be sufficient oversight, although the farmer, Steve Jensen, isn't going to be able grow wheat there for years.
Pipelines are efficient when it comes to moving crude oil from North Dakota to out-of-state markets. They reduce truck traffic and wear and tear on the state's roads and highways. The case can be made that they operate with less risk of a spill than hauling crude oil by truck or rail. But pipelines are not risk free. Pipelines need to be monitored and maintained properly by the companies that operate them. There needs to be sufficient government oversight, preferably at the state level.
Given oil's future in North Dakota, the state needs to put itself in the position to better protect the environment. The intensity of development here is such that there will be leaks and spills even under the most reasonable conditions. The state needs to get a better handle on its obligations.