Since June, North Dakota has seen more than 60 oilfield environmental incidents.
Although we’re no longer in the height of the oil boom, oil, salt water, and other chemical spills are still causing trouble for our soil, today.
We look back to the worst oil spill in North Dakota history, as experts discuss what landowners can be doing to protect themselves.
Soil and environmental experts led the conservation conversation out in Medora.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s records, from 2010 through April of 2015, there were 159 pipeline, railroad, and roadway crude oil incidents, resulting in over 42,000 barrels of spilled oil in North Dakota.
The worst happened in Mountrail County in September of 2013, and it’s still the worst spill to date, in the US.
Sam Croat, a Soil Scientist with Stealth Energy Group in Williston says, “It covered 15 acres of the surface, and actually the oil went down 50 feet down into the soil. So there was a huge crater, you could call it, in the ground at the time. It was crazy, it’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”
Because it was so widespread, reclamation work is just wrapping up now, much of it hitting Steve and Patty Jensen’s land Northeast of Tioga.
Croat shares, “For five/six years it’s been on-going, so if you think about the landowner perspective, there were so many people that entered into their lives, things that were unplanned. So it’s on-going, it’ll be on-going forever. Steve Jensen and his family homesteaded on that land, so it hits them at a personal level as well.”
Croat shared the story to many listeners today. She says since the reclamation project isn’t closed off yet, they don’t know the total cost.
The Scientist adds, “But I know it’s in the millions, many millions of dollars.”
According to Energy and Natural Resources Lawyer Derrick Braaten, this hits the everyday landowner, like the Jensens, the hardest, because, naturally, these pipelines go through many properties. 89 percent of his job is representing farmers and ranchers dealing with spills from these pipelines.
He says during the boom, there was more than just one spill a day, but only the larger ones led to litigation.
Braaten adds, “The other thing that we see, though, is you can have a build-up of many small spills, and so a lot of times people think that a 10 barrel or a 20 barrel isn’t a big deal. But if over the course of five or six years, you have 10 of those and none of them have been cleaned up, then it can start to become a problem.”
One way to protect yourself and your land is to do a baseline soil test before an oil site goes up. That way, you’re better able to hold the company accountable for spilling on your property.
Croat says although it’s not their responsibility, landowners are the best tool for monitoring leaks and spills. However, she says her group is developing more technology every day to catch a spill early and hold oil companies accountable, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.