Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Internal Documents Reveal Coverup in North Dakota Oil Spill

Energy
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.

Still Does Not Know How Much Oil was Spilled

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

In North Dakota, the Department of Health oversees environmental crimes such as Tesoro's spill. Documents obtained by Greenpeace show a close relationship between regulators for the Department of Health (DOH), the North Dakota body responsible for overseeing Tesoro and the company itself. Regulators for North Dakota's DOH helped Tesoro call the police on people investigating the spill, and helped Tesoro “keep the problem in North Dakota," by trying to contain leaked information.

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.

Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less
An Amazon.com Inc. worker walks past a row of vans outside a distribution facility on Feb. 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.

Read More Show Less