Oil Spill — Yet Another Wake-Up Call

Oil Slick

Oil Slick

One of the largest, recent onshore oil spills in the U.S. occurred on September 29, 2013, though a statement was not released by authorities until October 8. Officials were delayed in their response in part due to the ongoing government shutdown, and in part due to an initial underestimation of the amount of oil spilled. In addition to the 750 barrels cleared from the surface, state environmental geologist Kris Roberts estimates about 20,000 barrels trapped below a 7-10 foot layer of clay over a 7.3 acre area.

The oil, which was fracked from the Bakken Shale in the northwest corner of the state, was spilled as the result of a hole in the six-inch diameter High Plains pipeline. The 20-year-old pipeline, owned by Tesoro Logistics, runs about 35 miles from Tioga, ND to a rail facility near the Canadian border. Canadian Pacific then carries the crude oil to Albany, NY, where it is shipped down the Hudson River to refineries along the East Coast.

Cleanup efforts have been ongoing, despite the lack of an official public statement by North Dakota state authorities. Tesoro has employed the use of trenches to collect the crude on the surface, which is then recovered by vacuum trucks. As of Sunday, an estimated 1,800 barrels of oil have been recovered. As winter approaches, snow and cold rain are slowing the remediation process further.

The spill was first noticed by local wheat farmer Steven Jensen. Jensen reports that he could smell the crude oil for days before noticing an area in his field where the oil was spewing from the ground about six inches into the air. Though he had harvested the majority of his crop before the spill occurred, he did report losing a small amount of wheat. He also fears that he will not be able to farm his land for several years to come as a result of the spill.

North Dakota and Tesoro officials report no contamination of local water supply, and no apparent harm to the environment as a result of the spill, though the delayed response and initial underestimation of the amount of crude spilled leaves many skeptical as to the long term effects.

North Dakota is the nation’s second largest producer of crude oil after Texas, clocking an average of 874,000 barrels per day. The pipeline-railroad network ships between 149,000 and 157,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day. North Dakota’s Petroleum Council, with John Berger, a manager of a Tesoro refinery, stated that oil spills are expected to occur, and that the companies drilling for the oil should be fully responsible to take care of them.  As long as oil production continues in the United States, it is essential that both government agencies and oil manufacturing companies take responsibility for preventing and mitigating spills such as this, which released about 4 times the amount of oil as the recent spill by Exxon Mobil in Arkansas. Strict oversight and safety regulations are necessary for preventing damage to the environment, water supply, and productive capacity of industries like agriculture, not to mention the loss of the very source of energy that such dangerous processes as fracking seeks to provide in the first place.

The need to shift to clean, alternative sources of energy is more apparent now than ever. Green America urges you to support Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which will provide crucial financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the country. This environmental disaster is only the most recent caused by hasty domestic oil production, and will surely not be the last.

The blog post was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.

1 Comment »

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