By Todd Melby and Selam Gebrekidan
TIOGA, North Dakota/NEW YORK Oct 10 A Tesoro
Logistics LP pipeline has 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 affected part of the line has been shut down, Tesoro
Farmer Steven Jensen discovered the leak on Sept. 29 while
harvesting wheat on his 1,800-acre farm, about nine miles
northeast of Tioga, North Dakota.
Oil was gushing from the pipeline "like a faucet, 4 to 6
inches spewing out," said Jensen, who added that nearby wheat
plants were ruined.
The leak did not pose an immediate threat to groundwater
sources, Kris Roberts, who leads the environmental response team
at the state Department of Health told Reuters.
At an estimated 20,600 barrels, it ranks among the biggest
U.S. spills in recent years. It is the biggest oil leak on U.S.
land since March, when the rupture of an Exxon Mobil
pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas spilled 5,000 to 7,000 barrels
of heavy Canadian crude.
It comes at a time when concerns are growing over the safety
of the U.S. pipeline network, which is pumping more oil than
ever to bring shale oil and Canadian crude to U.S. refiners.
While authorities said no lakes, streams or rivers were
within five miles of the spill, the incident could provide
ammunition to activists who contend water supplies could be
endangered by construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline
from Canada to Oklahoma.
Neither Tesoro nor state regulators could give a cause for
the spill or say how long it lasted. Repairs, containment and
remediation could cost $4 million, Tesoro said in a statement.
"The pipeline was shut immediately and the leak is now
contained," said Tina Barbee, a Tesoro spokeswoman.
For a factbox on recent U.S. oil spills, see:
"AS BIG AS A DECK"
The oil was isolated within a 7.3-acre (29,947 square meter)
area, and within the top 10 feet of clay soil, according to a
report filed with the National Response Center on Oct. 8.
The center generally makes such reports available on its
website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were
interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown.
Jensen said he smelled the sweet Bakken crude oil four days
before he discovered a black pool "as big as a deck" on a remote
part of his wheat field.
"It was pretty ugly," he said. The nearby crop had
"disintegrated, you wouldn't have known it was a wheat plant."
A day after Jensen reported the leak to an 811 line, the
company sent its response team and burned oil that had
accumulated on the spot.
Tesoro also dug containment ditches 14 feet deep around the
area to limit the effects of the leak, which occurred below
ground, North Dakota State Representative David Rust said.
Three excavators were scooping up contaminated soil and
dumping it into yellow shipping containers late on Thursday.
Security personnel kept trespassers at bay while men in hard
hats worked on the site.
The ruptured pipeline is part of Tesoro's "High Plains"
pipeline system in North Dakota and Montana, which gathers oil
from the Bakken shale and delivers it to another Enbridge
pipeline and Tesoro's 68,000 barrels-per-day Mandan refinery.
The line runs 35 miles from Tioga to Black Slough, North Dakota.
San Antonio, Texas-based Tesoro said the refinery in Mandan
is operating normally. But the shutdown has affected third-party
shippers, Tesoro's Barbee said.
"We are unable to forecast potential supply impacts on
behalf of our third-party shippers," Megan Arrendondo, a Tesoro
The company said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
(PHMSA) were at the site. The regional EPA office could not be
reached because of the government shutdown.
This is the biggest oil spill in North Dakota since 1
million barrels of salt water brine, a by-product of oil
production, leaked from a well site in 2006, according to the
state Department of Health.
New developments in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have
caused a boom in North Dakota's oil production and boosted the
state's economy. Oil output jumped from 125,000 barrels per day
in 2007 to 875,000 bpd in July. North Dakota is now second only
to Texas in oil production among U.S. states.