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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published October 10 2013

ND pipeline spills 20,600 barrels of oil on farmer's land northeast of Tioga

TIOGA, N.D. – The farmer who discovered a pipeline break that spilled 20,600 barrels of Bakken crude near here said Thursday he hopes the industry learns from the incident and does a better job monitoring for leaks.

Steve Jensen said he’s been told by Tesoro Logistics it will take at least two to three years to clean up his field where he noticed the oil spill while harvesting wheat Sept. 29.

“It starts to make a person sick,” said Jensen, who owns both of his parents’ homesteads northeast of Tioga in northwest North Dakota.

Tesoro Logistics estimates the cost of cleanup at about $4 million.

North Dakota state officials have promoted pipelines as the safest and most efficient means of transporting crude oil to refineries.

Jensen, who lives in an area he describes as “spider webbed” with underground pipelines, said he began smelling oil a few days before he noticed the spill.

Tesoro Logistics said the leaking segment of the pipeline has been temporarily shut down and repairs are under way. No one was hurt and there are no known impacts to water, wildlife or the surrounding environment, the company said in a statement released Thursday.

The nearest home is about a half-mile away and Jensen lives about two miles away.

What caused the pipeline break and when it occurred will be part of an investigation, said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality.

Crews investigating the break found a hole in the pipe that was caused by some type of corrosion from the outside, Roberts said. They drilled a wooden peg into the hole and put a steel clamp around the whole area to secure it further, he said.

Often companies will remove a large section of pipe and send it to a forensics lab to determine what happened, Roberts said.

Eric Haugstad, director of contingency planning and emergency response for Tesoro Logistics who is on site, said crews are working around the clock to clean up the spill.

A continuous layer of clay about 10 to 14 feet below the surface kept the oil isolated and protected drinking water sources, Haugstad said.

Initially, the spill was estimated to be 750 barrels of oil, Roberts said.

Crews discovered there was more oil below the surface on top of a layer of clay, Roberts said. This week, company representatives increased the estimate of the spill to 20,600 barrels, he said. That is the equivalent of 865,200 gallons of oil or about 29 tanker railcars.

Jensen said Tesoro has been professional with him and responded aggressively to clean it up and monitor drinking water sources.

“They jumped on that real hard and fast about keeping this from getting into our water,” Jensen said. “That would be a disaster then.”

However, Jensen questions why Tesoro didn’t detect that more than 20,000 barrels had leaked and would like to see better monitoring systems put in place.

Tina Barbee, a Tesoro Logistics spokeswoman, said pipelines are monitored by a remote pipeline control center that monitors pressure and pumps. When asked if the monitoring center would have detected a leak, Barbee said that will be part of the company’s investigation.

Reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this story.