On Wednesday January 25, the North Dakota House legislators voted in an overwhelming majority of 82-11 in favor of House Bill 1151 that eliminates the need to report oil spills under ten barrels.
No one wants oil spills, but as Meg Morley wrote in a letter to the Grand Forks Herald urging the legislature to pass the new law, “Spills WILL happen; they’re inevitable when you’re working with oil.” No one questioned whether or not they happen. The argument centered around how big the spill has to be before it’s necessary to report it.
North Dakota HB 1151 states companies no longer need to report spills of crude oil, produced water or natural gas that are contained to a well site or production location and are less than 10 barrels, or 420 gallons.
Supporters of the bill say it will eliminate inspection of spills that are contained to a well site and can easily be cleaned up by companies. Meg Morley stated:
The men and women who work at these sites are trained to handle and react to any number of emergencies, including spills. I have been out on the sites and was so impressed by their professionalism and commitment to safety and regulations. Let’s not waste these workers’ valuable time by forcing them to report each and every oil spill.
Other supporters of the bill also said it would clean up the administrative burden the reporting standard places on public employees. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Kathleen Spilman, a consultant with Keitu Engineering who develops emergency response plans for the oil and gas industry, said she estimates 80 county and state employees get email notices about every spill, regardless of the size. Reporting spills contained to sites seems unnecessary, supporters said. A change in the law would eliminate the need for inspectors to check out every small spill.
However, Department of Mineral Resources spokesperson Alison Ritter said the law probably wouldn’t save the department much money, since oil and gas field inspectors do not immediately respond to a spill of 10 barrels or less that is contained on site. Instead, such incidents are inspected during routine inspections to ensure they’ve been properly cleaned up.
Yet landowners say the new law directly contradicts a commitment to protecting North Dakota’s environment. Troy Coons, North Dakota Landowners Association Chairman, said the organization would continue to oppose the law, even if it’s passed, reports the Dickinson Press. The organization supports reporting every spill over one gallon, regardless of the location. Kayla Pulvermacher, member advocacy director for the Farmers Union, noted that producers would likely want to know if spills, regardless of size, happen on their land. Additionally, Karen Erickstad of Bismarck said that if all spills are reported, regulators might make note of patterns of frequent small spills that warn regulators. Noting frequent spills could help in preventing larger oil spills.
The bill was also opposed by the North Dakota Farmers Union and the Dakota Resource Council.