Whistle-Blower Reveals 'Startling' Construction Problems at North Dakota Gas Plants Where Massive Spill Was Downplayed
By Justin Nobel
Two North Dakota gas processing plants in the heart of the Bakken oil fields have shown signs of an eroded safety culture and startling construction problems, according to Paul Lehto, a 54-year-old former gas plant operator who has come out as a whistle-blower.
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Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, has missed its 2018 deadline to plant tens of thousands of trees along the pipeline's route, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The company was supposed to plant 20,000 trees along the pipeline's 359-mile route through North Dakota by the end of 2018, as per the terms of a September 2017 settlement with North Dakota's Public Service Commission. So far, it has planted only around 8,800.
By Justin Mikulka
2018 was the year the oil and gas industry promised that its darling, the shale fracking revolution, would stop focusing on endless production and instead turn a profit for its investors. But as the year winds to a close, it's clear that hasn't happened.
Instead, the fracking industry has helped set new records for U.S. oil production while continuing to lose huge amounts of money—and that was before the recent crash in oil prices.
By Sharon Kelly
Roughly four years ago, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) filed a federal application to build a 1,172 mile oil pipeline from North Dakota's Bakken shale across the U.S. to Illinois at a projected cost of $3.8 billion.
Before that application was filed, on Sept. 30, 2014, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe met with ETP to express concerns about the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) and fears of water contamination. Though the company, now known as Energy Transfer, had re-routed a river crossing to protect the state capital of Bismarck against oil spills, it apparently turned a deaf ear to the Tribe's objections.
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A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.
Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.
By Liz Blood
A little over a year ago, Morgun Frejo, a member of the Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Navajo nations, began camping at Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock. The Missouri River is sacred to both his Pawnee and Otoe-Missouria tribes and Frejo recalls elders in both tribes telling him stories of its importance as a child.
He lived at Standing Rock from mid-August 2016 to late February 2017, just before the camp was evicted and closed by the National Guard and local law enforcement.
Pipeline Developer Distances Itself From Private Security Firm That Operated During the NoDAPL Protests
Last week, a governor-appointed security board revealed TigerSwan had been operating in North Dakota during the NoDAPL protests after being denied a license, and sued to block the company's work in the state and seek administrative fines.
Energy companies say that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, but a number of recent spills plague the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which could start service as soon as May 14.
A pipeline in western North Dakota spilled an estimated 756 gallons of oil and 294 gallons of saltwater, a drilling byproduct, into a tributary of the Little Missouri River, the Associated Press reports.
The amount of crude oil that spewed near Belfield, North Dakota from the ruptured Belle Fourche pipeline in December was vastly underestimated.
The original estimate was around 176,000 gallons of oil. After further review, pipeline operator True Companies now reports about 12,615 barrels (529,830 gallons) of oil spilled, spokeswoman Wendy Owen told Inforum. The cause of the leak has not been determined.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has long been tied to environmental risks such as spills. The frequency of spills, however, has long been murky since states do not release standardized data.
Estimates from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) vary wildly.
"The number of spills nationally could range from approximately 100 to 3,700 spills annually, assuming 25,000 to 30,000 new wells are fractured per year," the agency said in a June 2015 report. Also, the EPA reported only 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012.
But now, a new study suggests that fracking-related spills occur at a much higher rate.
The analysis, published Feb. 21 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed 6,648 spills in four states alone—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—in 10 years.
The researchers determined that up to 16 percent of fracked oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemically laden water, fracking fluids and other substances.
EPA Watered Down Major #Fracking Study to Downplay Water Contamination Risks https://t.co/9HhJdrSZ1R @GreenpeaceUK @globalactplan— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480767012.0
For the study, the researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 fracked wells in the four states between 2005 and 2014.
"On average, that's equivalent to 55 spills per 1,000 wells in any given year," lead author Lauren Patterson, a policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, told ResearchGate.
North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents. Pennsylvania reported 1,293, Colorado reported 476 and New Mexico reported 426. The researchers created an interactive map of spill sites in the four states.
Although North Dakota is rich in oil, the state's higher spill rate can be explained by varying state reporting requirements. North Dakota is required to report any spill larger than 42 gallons whereas requirement in Colorado and New Mexico is 210 gallons.
Patterson points out that the different reporting requirements are a problem.
"Our study concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," she told ResearchGate. "States would benefit from setting reporting requirements that generate actionable information—that is, information regulators and industry can use to identify and respond to risk 'hot spots.' It would also be beneficial to standardize how spills are reported. This would improve accuracy and make the data usable to understand spill risks."
9,442 Citizen-Reported Fracking Complaints Reveal 12-Years of Suppressed Data https://t.co/I8IpPRk6zR @talkfracking @AntiFrackinguk— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485858909.0
The reason why the researchers' numbers vastly exceeded the 457 spills estimated by the EPA is because the agency only accounted for spills during the hydraulic fracturing stage itself, rather than the entire process of unconventional oil and gas production.
"Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson explained. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells—not just unconventional ones."
For instance, the researchers found that 50 percent of spills were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines.
"The causes are quite varied," Patterson told BBC. "Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places."
220 'Significant' Pipeline Spills Already This Year Exposes Troubling Safety Record https://t.co/pxhlC3pf06 @PriceofOil @350 @billmckibben— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1477418713.0
For the four states studied, most spills occurred in the the first three years of a well's life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest.
Additionally, a significant portion of spills (26 percent in Colorado, 53 percent in North Dakota) occurred at wells with more than one spill, suggesting that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.
"Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health," said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School's Environmental Policy Initiative in a statement. "Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community."
By Kali Holloway
As Donald Trump takes office, pushing a wave of explicitly authoritarian federal policies and practices, Republican leaders at every level are following suit. The latest example is North Dakota lawmaker Keith Kempenich, who has introduced a bill that says a driver "who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway, is not guilty of an offense."
Kempenich, who spoke to the Bismark Tribune, was completely candid in expressing that he created the legislation in response to protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion project, which would span 1,100 miles and include Sioux land at the Standing Rock reservation, was halted in December after months of high-profile protests.
Rob Wilson Photography / Facebook
"It's shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian," Kempenich told the newspaper. The state Rep. went on to justify his bill, which would allow motorists to potentially maim or kill protesters using a vehicle—thousands of pounds of fast-moving metal—but complaining that protesters are "intentionally putting themselves in danger."
Kempenich's said his opposition to the U.S. Constitution and its First Amendment-granted rights of free speech, is the result of his mother-in-law being inconvenienced while driving through protests. The lawmaker cited an instance when he said, as she drove past a long line of cars parked along shoulder of the road, a protester jumped in front of her car waving a sign. It seems just as likely that the protester emerged from a blind spot created by the stationary cars, as can happen in any situation where parked vehicles create a visual barrier. It's impossible to say definitively, since neither Kempenich nor any of the other six Republican sponsors of the bill were there at the time.
"It's shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space," Tara Houska, a Native activist who works with environmental organization Honor the Earth, told NBC News. "These [bills] are meant to criminalize the protests with no real concern for constitutional law."
Along with Kempenich, other Republican backers of the bill include Michael Brandenburg, Vernon Laning, Bill Oliver, Karen Rohr, Dwight Cook and Donald Schaible.
This isn't the first time in recent months that GOP legislators have tried to push aggressively anti-free speech laws. In Washington State, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen has proposed a law that would create "a new crime of economic terrorism" which could allow for the arrest and prosecution of any protesters who "block transportation and commerce, cause property damage, threaten jobs and put public safety at risk."
Ericksen is likely well aware of the fact that "blocking commerce" succinctly describes pretty much every protest, ever. Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer of Stillwater, Minnesota, is floating a bill that further criminalizes and penalizes protesting on freeways. Lohmer's legislation would increase fines from $1,000 to $3,000 and raise jail time from 90 days to a full year.
North Dakota Governor: DAPL Likely to Get Easement Once Trump Is President https://t.co/2y9csS07rl @Indigeneity @dirtyoilsands— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484353813.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
In September 2013, a Tesoro Corp. pipeline ruptured in a wheat field near Tioga, North Dakota, spewing 840,000 gallons of fracked oil from the Bakken Shale, causing one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history. More than three years later, only a third of the spill has been recovered. To make matters worse, as the Associated Press reported, Tesoro has not even set a date for clean-up completion despite 'round-the-clock work to fix the break.
Cleaning up the spill will set Tesoro back an estimated $60 million. Crews have had to dig 50 feet underground to remove hundreds of thousands of tons of oil-tainted soil, North Dakota Health Department environmental scientist Bill Suess told the AP, adding that he worries that much of the oil may never be completely removed.
Critics of oil pipelines argue that spills are not just a question of "if" but "when." Spills are a common occurrence across the country. In fact, there have been more than 3,000 significant incidents since 2006, at a cost of $4.7 billion.
"The fact that crews are still trying to clean up Tesoro's spill from over three years ago shows just how unsafe these pipelines are," Greenpeace spokesperson Perry Wheeler told EcoWatch.
"There have been well over 200 significant spills across the country in 2016 alone, yet we continue to see fossil fuel companies downplay their impacts and rush them through approval processes," Wheeler added.
There have already been 220 'significant' pipeline spills already this year. https://t.co/8f5iciNgkc via @EcoWatch— NRDC (@NRDC)1478964421.0
On Dec. 5, a pipeline operated by the Belle Fourche Pipeline Company leaked more than 170,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Little Missouri River and into a hillside. The spill is significant because it occurred just 200 miles away from the Water Protectors' stand against the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
"What happened to us happened and we can't go back," Patty Jensen, who first discovered the Tesoro spill in 2013 on her farm, told the AP. "But I get really upset when I hear of a new one and I wonder what is being done to prevent these spills."
The oil industry also seems to think that pipeline spills are inevitable. Following the Tesoro break, North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness commented to KQCD, "You know, this is an industrial business and sometimes things happen and the companies are certainly responsible to take care of these things when they happen."
Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the DAPL, insists that their pipeline is safe. Compared to the Tesoro and Belfield pipelines made of 6-inch steel, the DAPL is made of 30-inch steel.
Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren said in an interview, "Our pipeline is very, very safe" and has vowed to move the pipeline's construction forward despite the Army Corps of Engineers officially denying the easement earlier this month, which is needed to complete the project.
"The resistance we have seen at Standing Rock must be replicated across the country," Wheeler concluded. "There's no such thing as a safe pipeline. They will always jeopardize someone's land and water supply. We must keep the world's remaining fossil fuels in the ground and move quickly to clean energy."
The momentum towards sustainable energy will need as much support as it can get once President-elect Donald Trump is in office. Trump's pick to head the Department of Energy, former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, is on the board of Energy Transfer Partners.