Internal Documents Reveal Coverup in North Dakota Oil Spill
By Jesse Coleman
North Dakota, long known for its cattle ranches and open spaces, has recently become one of the oil and gas industry's most prized—and profitable—possessions, thanks to the advent of fracking. However, the price of oil and gas industry development is paid in destruction to the environment and strains to the regulatory framework meant to protect the public from a reckless industry, as Tesoro's massive oil spill attests.
When the spill was finally reported to the authorities, the quarter inch hole in the pipeline had already released hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil.Neal Lauron/ Greenpeace
Documents from an open records request by Greenpeace have uncovered that Tesoro, a fracking giant based in San Antonio:
Possibly Knew Their Pipeline was Dangerously Weak
Tesoro ran tests on the pipeline that ruptured more than two weeks before the spill was discovered.
A robot, known as a “smart pig," detected weaknesses in the pipeline on Sept.10 and 11. Tesoro claims that they did not have ample time to digest the data before the spill, but Tesoro employees on the ground tell a different story. Furthermore, once the pipeline spill was discovered, Tesoro dispatched crews to check two other sites on the pipeline for leaks, indicating they were aware of potential fail points in the pipeline.
Did Not Report the Spill Correctly or Promptly
Tesoro corp is not saying how long the pipeline has been leaking. The hole in the line was about a quarter inch in diameter, and it would have taken some time for 20,600 barrels of oil to foul a wheat field the size of seven football fields. However, when the spill was finally reported to the authorities, the quarter inch hole had already released hundreds of thousands of gallons, enough to make the Tesoro spill the largest since North Dakota began fracking for oil. When Tesoro did report the spill, it did not report it through the proper channels. This caused confusion with state officials, and helped keep the spill out of the public eye for weeks.
Internal documents reveal that Tesoro gave no indication of how long oil was leaking from the damaged pipeline.
Tesoro has revised the amount they admit spilling multiple times since the oil spill became public, increasing the amount significantly each time. These revisions are not a surprise given that Tesoro is using an inaccurate and backward system for measuring the oil lost, that experts say doesn't “add up." Their current method is to roughly estimate the amount of oil it would take to cause the evident destruction, rather than measuring the amount that should have arrived at the other end of the pipeline.
Got Help From Regulators to “Keep the Problem in North Dakota"
As with other areas that have faced oil industry invasion underwritten by fracking, North Dakota's oil infrastructure has far outpaced the state's ability to regulate it. Fun fact, The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal body in charge of Tesoro's pipeline, has only 135 federal inspectors overseeing 2.6 million miles of pipeline, which means each inspector is responsible for almost enough pipe to circle the Earth.
Regulators for North Dakota's Department Of Health helped Tesoro call the police on people investigating the spillNeal Lauron/ Greenpeace
The huge boom in oil and gas production has been driven by fracking, the controversial drilling process that has made North Dakota one of the top producing oil fields in the world. In August North Dakota produced more than 911,000 barrels of oil per day. The Tesoro spill belies the danger of under-regulated and dangerous pipelines, like the proposed Keystone XL. These pipelines enrich the few, while the risks are borne by the unfortunate people in their path.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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