North Dakota pipeline leak: Listen to the Great Oz

Sometime before December 5, a North Dakota pipeline started leaking oil near Belfield. True Companies, which operates the pipeline, has electronic monitoring equipment to detect leaks. The fancy equipment didn’t work. The leak was discovered by a landowner. By the time the company shut off the oil, it had “migrated about almost 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and it fouled an unknown amount of private and U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway.” Now the company says that “more than” 176,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled. The spill is about 150 miles from where the Standing Rock water protectors are camped out, trying to prevent Energy Transfer Partners from drilling under the Missouri River.

Pipelines, the politicians and pipeline operators tell us, are safe. Pipelines have electronic monitoring equipment to detect spills. Then the companies shut down the flow of crude oil and clean up the spills. That, they say, is why it’s perfectly safe to build the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

The Ash Coulee Creek feeds the Little Missouri River, which eventually feeds into the Missouri River. North Dakota public health officials say that the spilled oil didn’t get as far as the Little Missouri, and that everybody’s drinking water is safe. Of course it is.

According to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation website:

“The Little Missouri River, North Dakota’s only state scenic river, wanders through a region of unparalleled beauty in the state. The Little Missouri–unpredictable, primitive and panoramic–characterizes and captures North Dakota’s adventurous spirit and western flair.”

Maybe some of that western flair will still be left after the clean-up. Don’t hold your breath, though. Back in May, the oil industry news site called OilPrice.com noted:

“Over two years after the September 2013 oil spill at a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in North Dakota, crews were still working at cleanup. The company had spent US$42 million on cleanup by June last year, when it was only one-third finished with the process of treating the contaminated soil.”

But don’t worry. The North Dakota health department said the Tesoro spill didn’t contaminate drinking water and does not endanger public health.

Besides oil spills, North Dakota has wastewater spills: leaks from pipelines carrying brine or a mixture of oil and brine from fracking operations. The Grand Forks Herald reported on widespread contamination from wastewater spills:

“The magnitude of spills that we see in North Dakota I haven’t seen elsewhere,” said Avner Vengosh, a Duke University professor who has been studying the effects of hydraulic fracturing since 2010 in several oil-producing states.

“Researchers found that streams polluted by produced water, also known as saltwater or brine, contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.”

Whether pipelines are spilling oil or saltwater carrying aluminum, selenium, lead, and radium — none of the spills pose any hazard to public health. There is nothing to worry about. Just obey the Great Oz: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

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