Oil leak questions taken up at energy meeting

2013-10-14T17:08:00Z Oil leak questions taken up at energy meetingBy NICK SMITH | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

State officials had no additional answers for lawmakers at a Monday committee meeting on the reason for the delay in alerting the public to an oil spill two weeks ago near Tioga.

Members of the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee wanted to know how long it had taken to discover the spill from a Tesoro Corp. pipeline. The spill was larger than initially estimated and was approximately 20,600 barrels, one of the largest in state history.

North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms testified Monday but only on oil and natural gas production. The state’s top oil and gas regulator never brought up the spill during his remarks. Lawmakers also never asked a single question of him about it.

Those who did address the spill had few new details.

David Glatt, head of the environmental section of the North Dakota Health Department, provided an outline of the sequence of events. The department first received word of the spill after 10 p.m. on Sept. 29.

“We had people on-site the next morning,” Glatt said.

Initially the spill, which had occurred in a wheat field, had been considered small at about 750 barrels. A single barrel of oil is about 42 gallons. Late the afternoon of Oct. 8 Tesoro had contacted the department to report that the spill was considerably larger.

Glatt tried to put a positive perspective on the spill, saying the seven-plus acre spill hadn’t been near any bodies of water.

“Where it occurred is … the best place it could’ve occurred,” Glatt said.

Glatt said Tesoro will also need to come up with a remediation plan which hasn’t yet been submitted.

As to the 11-day gap before the spill was made public, Glatt said the department had responded properly.

“The state’s first priority is protection of public health,” Glatt said.

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

Questions on the monitoring of pipelines by companies also came up.

“Would anybody here have any idea how long this was leaking?” Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, said.

Glatt said he was unsure and that would be a key question to answer in the investigation.

Public Service Commission chairman Brian Kalk updated the committee on the PSC’s recent activities before questioning turned to the spill. Pipeline siting is one of several PSC responsibilities.

“The PSC was first notified of the spill on Thursday,” Kalk said.

Kalk said the PSC is usually notified fairly quickly on spills large and small. Why the PSC wasn’t informed until Thursday in this particular case he didn’t know.

“The awareness … is important,” Kalk said.

Andrist asked Kalk how significant the risk is for corrosion of pipelines as they age. The Tesoro pipeline is more than 20 years old.

Kalk replied that in the past the leading cause of pipeline damages is when a third party doesn’t inform the state prior to digging in a location. He said the largest cause beyond this is usually operator issues and that corrosion “is a key factor” in a number of pipeline failures.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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