North Dakota agency disregarded policy on spill reporting

State News
A construction sign in Southern North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Health Department disregarded its own policy in updating the volume of a 2015 pipeline spill at a natural gas processing plant, and it remains unclear whether promised quarterly inspections of the site have been done in the past two years as cleanup continued.

Oklahoma-based Oneok Partners LP reported a 10-gallon (38-liter) spill of natural gas liquids, or “condensate,” from an underground pipeline at its Garden Creek gas plant near Watford City in July 2015. The company told the state last October that it had recovered 240,000 gallons (908,400 liters) of the liquid gas. The second sum was not put into an incident report that can be accessed on the agency’s website.

“It should have been updated,” State Environmental Quality Chief Dave Glatt said Thursday. “It was in a file, but people (the public) didn’t know where to find it.”

An incident report has not been done since June 2017. At that time, the report said the spill site would be inspected quarterly. Glatt said he was investigating whether that had happened.

He said the agency is now working to develop a user-friendly tracking system on its website to update the status and include all documents on reported spills.

“It’s all going to be right there,” Glatt said, adding that he did not know when it would be in place.

Glatt previously had told The Associated Press that the agency does not update initial public reports on spills and was considering such a move. But the agency’s website already described such a policy.

“When Department of Environmental Quality staff investigate reported incidents, they will update the information and record it in the update section of each report, producing a new version of the summary report with the next web page update cycle,” the website says. “The web page is updated routinely.”

Glatt said Thursday that the agency is not obliged to update information “unless we have something to update.” He added: “I can’t tell you we were 100% good on that.”

Records show regulators updated the “general environmental incident summary” three times concerning the spill but left blank sections for “updated volume.” Glatt said the agency didn’t have “good numbers” on the spill until the October update from the company.

“Our policy is to put in good numbers,” Glatt said.

Glatt did not know how many times the site had been inspected but emphasized that regulators had been out to the factory near Watford City this week, following a story from environmental blog DeSmog, which reported that the spill may be as large as 11 million gallons (9 million imperial gallons). The blog cited an unidentified person who provided a draft document on a cleanup plan.

The company said the actual amounts of the release still aren’t known.

The initial 2015 spill report said it “impacted areas” outside of the plant but regulators said this week that it had been contained within the factory’s boundaries. Some groundwater was affected at the Garden Creek site, regulators said,

Glatt said groundwater monitoring wells have been placed completely around the natural gas factory.

Oneok said the release was caused by “hairline cracks” in a 2-inch-wide (5-centimeter-wide) underground pipe at the facility. Regulators don’t know how long the line had been leaking, but they said it was repaired immediately after being discovered.

Glatt said the company has moved all of its underground pipelines above ground since the spill.

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer behind Texas, and oil and natural gas production has soared in the past decade. Glatt said his agency, which numbers more than 150 people, is not lacking for inspectors to keep tabs on spills.

He said everyone at the agency “is a potential inspector.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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