Tioga spill cleanup thermal desorption unit

Crews use a mobile thermal desorption unit to "bake" oil out of soil that was contaminated by the oil pipeline spill discovered Sept. 29, 2013, near Tioga. Andeavor, formerly known as Tesoro Logistics, had spent $73 million on cleanup as of February 2017.

AMY DALRYMPLE, Tribune

If anyone thinks fears of an oil pipeline spill are far-fetched, they need only read reporter Amy Dalrymple’s Sunday story on the Tioga oil spill in 2013.

While major pipeline spills may not be common, when they happen they can be devastating. Imagine losing a field to production for four years with another one or two years of recovery work ahead. Not only is the field out of use, but more land is being used as a staging area for recovery efforts.

As difficult as it has been, Steve and Patty Jensen have maintained a good attitude during the ups and downs of recovery. They have a good working relationship with Andeavor, the pipeline owner formerly known as Tesoro Logistics, she bringing them pies, they providing them with coffee. It would be easy to fall into an adversarial relationship with the company.

That acrimony hasn’t dominated may be a tribute to the Jensens, North Dakotans’ “nice approach” or Andeavor’s efforts to clean up the mess. Most likely it’s a combination of all three.

Dalrymple’s story described the extensive work involved in cleaning up the site. Andeavor has spent at least $73 million so far on cleanup, according to what the company reported in February. The state health department fined Andeavor $454,000 for the spill. It’s obviously not something the company wanted to happen. The fine pales in comparison to the cost of recovery. State officials are on site on a regular basis to inspect the work. North Dakota State University soil scientists have test plots on site where they have been experimenting during the past two growing seasons to help return the soil to productive farmland.

The Jensens have been eager to show the extent of the damage and recovery work to the governor and Industrial Commission. Gov. Doug Burgum has toured the site and the Jensens hope Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring will visit. It would likely benefit the Public Service Commission to take a tour.

State officials should see how one wheat field in western North Dakotan can turn into a five- or six-year recovery effort. That’s why the commissions are tasked with enforcing numerous regulations.

The Tribune has been supportive of an improved pipeline network to move oil for a number of years. The Tioga spill reminds us that we must remain diligent whether moving oil by rail, truck or pipeline. It shows why protesters didn’t want the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River. The Tribune is satisfied with the safeguards in place for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

While the cooperative efforts to clean up the Tioga spill should be lauded, we should never let down our guard. We shouldn’t cut any corners when constructing pipelines. We should always be looking for ways to make pipelines safer. We’ll always have the cost and time involved in the Tioga spill to remind us of what can happen. We can hope and do everything we can to avoid another Tioga spill.

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