By Rob Port | Google+
In the wake of a 22,000 barrel oil spill out of a Tesoro pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, some state lawmakers want to make the reporting of such oil spills, to use their word, “mandatory.”
As if they weren’t already.
“When a 20,000 barrel oil spill goes undisclosed to North Dakotans for well over a week — and only then after being reported on by the media — that is a failure,” House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad (D-Parshall) said.
“A 20,000-barrel spill is a disaster by any measure and should be reported to the public,” state Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) said. “This can be a lesson for us.”
On the surface, these comments are right. The public should know about 22,000 barrels of oil being dumped on the ground in their state.
The problem is these comments are also very misleading. Listening to Rep. Onstad and Senator Schneider you would think that every oil spill that happens in North Dakota is an oil industry secret.
That’s simply not true. There are stringent reporting requirements for even the smallest spills, and serious consequences if those requirements aren’t met.
Oil spills in North Dakota are reported to multiple government agencies every time they happen and have been for decades. Where oil spills aren’t always reported is in press releases sent out to the media, and that’s an area where the Tioga oil spill “can be a lesson for us,” as Senator Schneider said.
The North Dakota Health Department didn’t send out a press release, nor even notify Governor Jack Dalrymple, until days after the leak in the Tesoro line was first noticed. That’s unacceptable for a leak of this magnitude.
But it seems that “lesson” has already been learned by the Health Department. “We want to be, as an agency, as transparent as possible,” Dave Glatt, chief of the department’s environmental health section, told the legislature’s Energy Transmission and Development Committee according to the Associated Press.
Glatt was announcing the creation of a new website to which information about every oil spill in North Dakota (you know, the ones already being reported to the state) will be posted.
“We want to make sure the public does know, as well as legislators,” said Glatt, who also announced that his department is enacting new policies for what size of an event will trigger a press release to the media.
For what it’s worth, most of this new transparency was already available through the federal government which maintains nearly a decade’s worth of data about oil spills in America on the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s website.
So oil spills in North Dakota are about to get more transparent. That’s a good thing. But then, there was a lot of transparency even before now, despite what some point-scoring politicians may have to say about it.