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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published October 31 2013

ND Dems want spill reports required

BISMARCK – North Dakota Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday that they will seek bipartisan legislation to require regulators to publicly report all oil spills and other hazardous leaks.

“We believe that openness and transparency build public trust rather than causing alarm,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider said.

The move comes after officials took nearly two weeks to tell the public about a Tesoro Corp. pipeline rupture discovered last month that sent more than 20,000 barrels of crude spewing across a North Dakota wheat field. It follows a report that the state had had nearly 300 pipeline spills – many of them small – in the past two years that hadn’t been publicly announced.

“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 House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad of Parshall, whose district is in one of the state’s top oil-producing areas.

“A 20,000-barrel spill is a disaster by any measure and should be reported to the public,” Schneider said. “This can be a lesson for us.”

North Dakota is the nation’s No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. Regulators last week said they would begin publishing spill information on a website and were considering how large a spill should trigger a public announcement.

Schneider said public reporting of all spills should be mandatory, not just a promise. The Grand Forks Democrat called it a “trust-but-verify approach.”

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, will lead the effort as part of the Energy Transmission and Development Committee, which meets today at the state Capitol. Triplett said she will ask staff attorneys to begin drafting legislation that would require all hazardous material spills be posted on a publicly accessible state agency website.

Triplett said disclosing such spills to the media also would not be a burden for state agencies or a governor’s staff.

“They are already issuing communications celebrating this, that or the other thing,” she said.

Lawmakers also will push for a study with the goal of drafting legislation to increase the state’s role in pipeline oversight, she said.

“We want agencies to come forward with precise facts and a memorandum that defines the scope of state and federal oversight and where the gaps are,” Triplett said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who heads the committee, said Wednesday that he has not heard of the Democrats’ proposals.

“It’s definitely a concern and maybe needs to be looked at,” Wardner said of the mandatory reporting and increased oversight of pipelines. “What I need is some time to look at the facts, on whether we should or we shouldn’t.”

The committee is made up of eight Republicans and four Democrats.

Wardner said the state Health Department’s promise to publicly post spills may be enough.

“Personally, I trust the Health Department,” he said. “But on the other hand, the people at the Health Department may not be there 10 years from now and may not be as responsible.”

If approved by the bipartisan Energy Transmission and Development Committee, the measures would go to the full Legislature in the 2015 session.

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue,” Triplett said. “It’s a North Dakota stewardship issue.”