North Dakota Lawmakers Want To Make All Oil Spills Public

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Steve Jensen, who discovered this month's Tesoro Corp. pipeline spill in North Dakota.

Steve Jensen, who discovered this month’s Tesoro Corp. pipeline spill in North Dakota.

CREDIT: AP/Kevin Cederstrom

Democrats in North Dakota are seeking legislation that would make it mandatory for the state to report all oil and other hazardous spills and leaks to the public, regardless of their size.

The announcement of the legislation comes less than a week after an AP investigation discovered nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” had gone unreported to the public since January 2012. It also comes just a few weeks after a 20,000-barrel pipeline spill in a North Dakota field — a spill that was discovered by a farmer, not the pipeline company or government regulators. It took North Dakota officials nearly two weeks to announce the spill’s existence to the public.

Right now, regulators in North Dakota aren’t required to make information about oil spills public. Companies must notify the state of all spills, but the state is under no obligation to then notify the public of the spills. It’s usually only if the spill is a threat to public safety or the environment that it is disclosed to the public. That isn’t uncommon among oil-producing states: Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas also aren’t required to disclose oil spills, according to the AP.

North Dakota’s Health Department is beginning to test a website that would make information about spills public, but the AP reports that the department is “considering how large a spill should trigger a public announcement.” With the new legislation, all spills would be reported, no matter their size.

“When a 20,000 barrel oil spill goes undisclosed to North Dakotans for well over a week — and only then after being reported on by the media — that is a failure,” said North Dakota House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad of Parshall, one of the lawmakers pushing for the legislation.

State Sen. Connie Triplett is leading the group of lawmakers, who are beginning to draft legislation on the issue to be brought before the state’s Energy Transmission and Development Committee. If the legislation passes that committee, it will move on to the full state Legislature during the 2015 session.