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N.D. oil leaks go unreported

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota, the No. 2 oil-producing state behind Texas, recorded nearly 300 oil pipeline spills in less than two years, state documents show. None was reported to the public, officials said.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show the pipeline spills, many of them small, are among some 750 "oilfield incidents" that have occurred since January 2012 without public notification.

"That's news to us," said Don Morrison, director of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental-minded landowner group with more than 700 members in North Dakota.

Dennis Fewless, director of water quality for the state health department, said regulators are reviewing state policies for when to publicly report such incidents after a farmer discovered a massive spill recently in northwestern North Dakota. State and company officials kept it quiet for 11 days -- and only said something after the AP asked about it.

North Dakota regulators, as in many other oil-producing states, are not obliged to tell the public about oil spills under state law. But in a state that's producing a million barrels a day and saw nearly 4,000 kilometres of new pipelines last year, many believe the risk of spills will increase, posing a bigger threat to farmland and water.

"We're certainly looking at that now and what would be a threshold for reporting to the public," Fewless said. Taking notice of the recent criticism, the state issued a statement Oct. 17 on an estimated seven-barrel oil spill in Divide County, which borders Canada in northwestern North Dakota.

The state also is mulling a better system to track spills in-house, Fewless said, from their origin to cleanup status.

North Dakota officials have urged pipeline industry officials to quickly -- and safely -- expand the network to keep pace with record production in the oilpatch. The state has about 28,500 kilometres.

For weeks, no one knew about a Tesoro Corp. pipeline that broke Sept. 29 in a remote area near Tioga. Officials say no water was contaminated or wildlife hurt, but the spill was one of the largest in North Dakota's history, estimated at 20,600 barrels. Oil oozed over an area the size of seven football fields.

Records obtained by the AP show so far this year, North Dakota has recorded 139 pipeline leaks that spilled a total of 735 barrels of oil. In 2012, there were 153 pipeline leaks that spilled 495 barrels of oil, data show. A little more than half of the spills companies reported to North Dakota occurred "on-site," where a well is connected to a pipeline, and most were fewer than 10 barrels.

The remainder of the spills occurred along the state's labyrinth of pipelines.

 

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