Tioga oil spill drawing media visits; cleanup will take months

Workers with heavy equipment try to contain an oil spill on the Jensen farm near Tioga, N.D., on Oct. 12, 2013. Photo by Neal Lauron/Greenpeace

TIOGA, N.D. – As crews continue cleaning up after a pipeline break spilled 20,600 barrels of oil near here, more national media outlets are finding their way to the site in northwest North Dakota.

Farmer Steve Jensen, who discovered the spill in his wheat field, had a TV crew from Al Jazeera America and a freelance photographer pull into his yard Sunday.

“It’s been quite overwhelming,” said Jensen, who estimates he’s lost two days of work to media interviews. “It’s quite an experience. It’s big news.”

As of Sunday afternoon, crews had recovered about 1,800 barrels of oil, said Eric Haugstad, director of contingency planning and response for Tesoro, which owns the pipeline.

Crews have dug 3,000 feet of trenches in the area of the leak and area using “super sucker” vacuum trucks that pick up solids and liquids from the trenches, Haugstad said. The work continues 24 hours a day.

A St. Paul environmental consultant is on site and working to develop a plan to clean up and restore the site. Haugstad said he expects a plan to be ready within the next week or so.

“They’re working on different remediation options now,” he said.

Haugstad said he couldn’t speculate on how long remediation will take, but said it could take months. Winter will slow the cleanup process, he said.

Photo by Neal Lauron/Greenpeace

State officials, including the North Dakota Department of Health, have been at the site several times, most recently Saturday, Haugstad said. Staff from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration left Friday for the weekend but had been on location for more than one week, Haugstad said.

Jensen discovered the oil while harvesting his field Sept. 29. Initially the spill was estimated to be 750 barrels and Tesoro Logistics received permission to burn the oil on the surface so they could work safely.

After further investigation, the company discovered additional oil below the surface above a layer of clay. The health department has said Tesoro updated its spill estimate last week to 20,600 barrels, the largest spill during North Dakota’s current oil boom.

On Sunday, Haugstad said the oil has not affected any water sources and crews continue to monitor below the surface using test wells and probes.

Jensen called Haugstad and others at the site doing the cleanup “class acts” and said they’ve considered his suggestions about how to best monitor for seepage.

“It’s a team effort,” Jensen said.

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