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article imageLargest oil spill in North Dakota's history still not cleaned up

By Karen Graham     Dec 19, 2016 in Environment
Tioga - A Tesoro Corp. pipeline spill in North Dakota in 2013 that leaked 840,000 gallons of oil into a farmer's wheat field is still being cleaned up, and like the Belle Fourche pipeline spill, Tesoro's monitoring equipment failed to detect the leak.
In the wake of the latest oil spill this month in North Dakota, and the continuing debate over the Dakota Access Pipeline, the slow progress being made with Tesoro's cleanup has heightened concerns over the safety of the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
There is no doubt that North Dakota is one of the oil and gas industry's most profitable possessions, but those profits have been gained at the expense of the environment. Regulatory requirements appear to have been stretched to the limits with questionable monitoring of the pipelines.
In September 2013, a farmer discovered the leak after smelling the oil. And while there were no homes within a half-mile of the leak and no water supplies were impacted, the leak from the six-inch pipe managed to spill over 20,000 barrels of oil into a Tioga, ND wheat field.
Recently, Patty Jensen, the farmer's wife, told the Associated Press that workmen had been laboring 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week to clean up the spill, but Bill Suess, a North Dakota Health Department environmental scientist, is worried that all of the oil may never be recovered.
Jensen is really upset over the latest pipeline break in Belfield, 150 miles south of the Tioga break, and said, "What happened to us happened and we can't go back. But I get really upset when I hear of a new one and I wonder what is being done to prevent these spills."
Texas-based Tesoro Corp. and federal regulators said at the time that it was possible that a lightning strike caused the leak in the six-inch pipeline. But that explanation still raised questions as to why pipeline monitoring equipment hadn't worked.
However, documents obtained by Greenpeace under an open records request revealed the company may have known the pipeline was weak.
Not only that, but the leak was first estimated to be about 750 barrels of oil, but this estimate was later updated by a massive amount, to over 20,000 barrels or 184,000 gallons of oil. Additionally, the size of the estimated acreage contaminated by the spill went up from seven acres, about the size of seven football fields, to 13 acres, said Suess.
The cleanup has already cost Tesoro $49 million and is expected to run as high as $60 million, yet, only a little less than one-third of the oil has been cleanup. Crews have had to dig as deep as "50 feet to remove the hundreds of thousands of tons of oil-tainted soil," said Suess.
Tesoro is now relying on a process called thermal desorption, utilizing specialized equipment, that allows them to burn off volatile hydrocarbons from the contaminated soil before replacing it.
More about Tesoro oil spill, North dakota, largest in state history, monitoring equipment, thermal desorption
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