Tesoro’s pipeline restarts in North Dakota, no plan to remediate massive oil spill

by Jesse Coleman

November 1, 2013

Workers with heavy equipment try to contain an oil spill on the Jensen farm near Tioga, North Dakota on October 12, 2013. A Tesoro Logistics LP pipeline spilled more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil into a North Dakota wheat field, the biggest leak in the state since it became a major U.S. producer. The six-inch pipeline was carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale play to the Stampede rail facility outside Columbus, North Dakota. The spill was originally discovered on September 29, 2013. Photo by Neal Lauron/Greenpeace

©Neal Lauron/Greenpeace

Guest Post by Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog

A month afterover 865,200 gallons of oil spilledfrom Tesoro Logistics’ 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipelineresumed operationstoday.

Carrying oil obtained viahydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontial drilling method used to capture oil and gas found embedded in shale rock basins worldwide, theBakken Shalepipeline spill on September 29 was the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.Oil spillexperts say the spill may be even bigger than originally estimated.

Yet few details of what caused the spill – and how to prevent it from happening again – have arisen in the month since it occurred.

TheU.S. Department of Transporation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes alightning strike may have created the quarter inch hole in the pipeline, leading to the spill.

PHMSA says it will carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the spill, butallowed the restartafter Tesoro agreed to theagency’ssafety ordermandating aerial monitoring of the pipeline over the next three days during the restart and then weekly for the next year, along with 20 other things.

The safety order also mandates Tesoro provide a documentated updated within six months indicating how it enhanced its control room monitoring, instructs Tesoro to finish the final mechanical and metallurgical testing report of the failed pipe within 30 days and dictates that within “90 days complet[ion of] a root cause failure analysis for the Line that contains a detailed timeline of events.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace USAunder North Dakota’s Open Records Statute show the oil has settled over 12 feet below the ground layer of the soil. The oil that settled on the surface was burned off.

“At 10-12 feet below surface, there is a extensive clay layer that underlies the entire hill top,” Kris Roberts, Environmental Response Team Leader for the North Dapartment of Health’s Division of Water Quality,explained in an October 3 field report.

“Putting it to Bed for the Winter”

In an interview withDeSmogBlog, Roberts said studies to test the impacts of the massive amounts of oil on the area’s soil are forthcoming.

“There will be a lot of testing done after the process of cleaning it up,” he said. “For now, it’s kind of a moot point when you’ve got product moving through the soil, it’s kind of screwed up. So, there will be sampling that happens as we work toward different options toward remediating the contamination.”

Rather than rush to clean up the soil now, though, the North Dakota Department of Health plans on “putting it to bed for the winter” and finishing up in the spring, Roberts said.

“We’ll continue to recover any free oil, but essentially because winter is days away if not already there, they’re basically just putting it back to bed, ensuring it’s properly contained and monitored,” he said.

“They will hopefully get some natural remediation over the winter below the frost zone when the indigenous bacteria start flourishing, that’ll probably help a little bit cleaning up. But for the most part, everything is pretty much on hold and active remediation is going to be on hold until next spring.”

Photos of Spill Site Revealed for First Time

Below are some of the photos provided to Greenpeace USA as part of its Open Records request.

They include a photo of the oil burn, which Tesoro did the day after the spill upon getting permission to do so from the North Dakota Department of Health; as well as aerial and on-the-ground photos of the scene of the spill site.

Stay tuned for DeSmogBlog’s continuing coverage on North Dakota’s massive Bakken Shale fracked oil spill in the days and weeks ahead.

A photo of the in situ burning of oil from a distance; Photo Credit:Greenpeace USA

Over 865,000 Gallons of Fracked Oil in the Soil; Photo Credit:Greenpeace USA

A birds-eye view of the 865,000 gallon spill of fracked oil in Tioga, ND; Photo Credit:Greenpeace USA

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