Huge North Dakota oil spill went unreported by furloughed feds

By John Upton, Grist

A farmer discovered a huge oil spill — several times bigger than the recent Mayflower, Ark., spill – nearly two weeks ago in North Dakota. But because of federal government furloughs, we’re only just learning about it.

More than 20,000 barrels of fracked oil seeped from a ruptured pipeline over 7 acres of remote North Dakota wheat fields, oozing 10 feet into the clay soil and killing crops. Farmer Steven Jensen found the mess on his land on Sept. 29.

The National Response Center, which reports oil and chemical spills, posted an alert about the spill on its website this week. Reuters reports that the agency normally posts such reports within a day, but that its work has been stymied by the government shutdown.

But there’s really nothing to worry about, says Tesoro Logistics, the company responsible for the spill:

There have been no injuries or known impacts to water, wildlife or the surrounding environment as a result of this incident.

Jeez, it’s as if the pipeline spewed oxygen and candy.

Try telling that to Jensen, whose nose led him to a pool of oil while he was out harvesting on his 1,800-acre farm. “It was pretty ugly,” he told Reuters. The nearby crop had “disintegrated, you wouldn’t have known it was a wheat plant.” More from 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. …

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.

Emergency crews initially lit fire to the oil spill, burning an estimated 750 barrels in an effort to reach the leaking pipeline – despite homes being located a half mile away.

Tesoro says the burst pipeline has been shut down and it’s conducting an internal investigation to try to determine the cause of the accident. A state official’s description of a hole in the pipeline made it sound as though the spill was caused by corrosion. About 1,200 barrels of oil had been recovered by Thursday, meaning at least another 18,000 barrels are still out there in Jensen’s fields.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: