UPDATED: Pipeline leak causes spill of 20,600 barrels of oil

Landowner Steve Jensen continues working in his field Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, near Tioga, N.D., while crews work off in the distance to clean up 20,600 barrels of oil that released in a Tesoro Logistics pipeline break. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

TIOGA, N.D. – The farmer who discovered a pipeline break that spilled 20,600 barrels of Bakken crude said Thursday he hopes the industry learns from the incident and does a better job monitoring for leaks.

Steve Jensen said he’s been told by Tesoro Logistics it will take at least two to three years to clean up his field where he noticed the oil spill while harvesting wheat Sept. 29.

“It starts to make a person sick,” said Jensen, who owns both of his parents’ homesteads northeast of Tioga in northwest North Dakota.

Tesoro Logistics estimates the cost of cleanup at about $4 million.

North Dakota state officials have promoted pipelines as the safest and most efficient means of transporting crude oil to refineries.

Jensen, who lives in an area he describes as “spider webbed” with underground pipelines, said he began smelling oil a few days before he noticed the spill.

Tesoro Logistics said the leaking segment of the pipeline has been temporarily shut down and repairs are underway. No one was hurt and there are no known impacts to water, wildlife or the surrounding environment, the company said in a statement released Thursday.

The nearest home is about a half-mile away and Jensen lives about two miles away.

What caused the pipeline break and when it occurred will be part of an investigation, said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality.

Crews investigating the break found a hole in the pipe that was caused by some type of corrosion from the outside, Roberts said. They drilled a wooden peg into the hole and put a steel clamp around the whole area to secure it further, he said.

Often companies will remove a large section of pipe and send it to a forensics lab to determine what happened, Roberts said.

Eric Haugstad, director of contingency planning and emergency response for Tesoro Logistics who is on site, said crews are working around the clock to clean up the spill. Crews drilled monitoring wells to check groundwater and used a geoprobe to determine the extent of the contamination, which covers about 7.5 acres, Haugstad said.

A continuous layer of clay about 10 to 14 feet below the surface kept the oil isolated and protected drinking water sources, Haugstad said.

“It’s unfortunate it happened but the location because of the clay underlayer and the topography actually mitigated the spread of the oil,” said Haugstad, who assisted with cleanup of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

Crews dug trenches and are using vacuum trucks to recover the oil. As of Thursday afternoon, crews had recovered 1,545 barrels of oil and are nearing the end of the oil recovery phase, Haugstad said.

Tesoro is working with Antea Group, a St. Paul environmental consultant, to develop a plan for the saturated soil, Haugstad said. He said he couldn’t speculate on how long that will take.

Initially, the spill was estimated to be 750 barrels of oil, Roberts said.

The company received permission to burn off the oil on the surface so they could work safely, Roberts said.

Crews discovered there was more oil below the surface on top of a layer of clay, Roberts said. This week, company representatives increased the estimate of the spill to 20,600 barrels, he said. That is the equivalent of 865,200 gallons of oil or about 29 tanker railcars.

Jensen said Tesoro has been professional with him and responded aggressively to clean it up and monitor drinking water sources.

“They jumped on that real hard and fast about keeping this from getting into our water,” Jensen said. “That would be a disaster then.”

However, Jensen questions why Tesoro didn’t detect that more than 20,000 barrels had leaked and would like to see better monitoring systems put in place.

Tina Barbee, a Tesoro Logistics spokeswoman, said pipelines are monitored by a remote pipeline control center that monitors pressure and pumps. When asked if the monitoring center would have detected a leak, Barbee said that will be part of the company’s investigation.

Tesoro Logistics also flies over pipelines to monitor them, Barbee said. She said she did not know the most recent aerial inspection of this pipeline.

“It is consistently monitored, on average, weekly,” Barbee said.

Jensen, who is a pilot, said the spill likely would have been visible from the air.

“I think industry will learn from this,” Jensen said.

Tesoro Logistics said it has been working closely with the landowner, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the North Dakota Department of Health, and public safety and regulatory authorities during the response effort.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he initially heard about the sizable spill Wednesday evening and learned more details Thursday.

“It appears there is no immediate threat to public safety or to health. Those are the main things,” Dalrymple said. “But there will be many questions to be answered about how it occurred and how was it detected and whether there was anything that could have been done that would have made a difference.”

Reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this story.

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