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Chris Rodgers, Published February 08 2014

Letter: Media distort spills’

For the past couple of months, there has been talk about accidental oil and water spills in North Dakota. Much of the discussion is reasonable but largely misconstrued by media. We should, and luckily do, have an energy industry that is committed to reducing and mitigating accidents in the Bakken.

In North Dakota, almost any time oil hits the ground, a spill has legally occurred and formal cleanup and reporting is required. Unfortunately, by reporting every spill, statistics can sound scary. High counts of small reported spills are often highlighted in an effort to push agendas in the media.

Fortunately, a much safer picture is painted by our experience as a company hired for spill cleanup, along with data from the North Dakota Health Department. Using data available online from the past 12 months, we learn most spills are limited and minor:

•More than 75 percent of all spills occur within containment areas, including well pads, depot sites and other places that are ringed with earth or metal walls meant to limit a spill, no matter its size.

•The median oil spill is one barrel, a size smaller than an everyday fish tank, while more than two-thirds of spills contain less than 100 gallons of oil, and more than 60 percent release no saltwater.

•Of total reports, almost 6 percent of “spills” reported no fluid volume of any kind. Many more reported less than a gallon of oil. In fact, one reported incident was simply a spill of fresh water, reported to the state as a precautionary measure.

The cleanup of small spills is both important and routine work. Ninety-five percent of our work comes from small spills that require only two to four individuals to contain and remediate the area. After containment is complete, we will remove the top 3 to 6 inches of gravel or soil, have it trucked to a special waste facility and replaced with clean material. The process takes a few hours and costs relatively little as compared to large numbers reported in the news.

Once or twice a month, we are called to clean up larger incidents. In these situations, the process of cleanup is more or less the same but on a larger scale.

Our goal, and the goal of the energy producers we serve, is to ensure the long-term safety and environmental health of North Dakota. Our first priority is to stop a spill from contaminating water supplies and wetlands. Second, we work to contain a spill from spreading, no matter the environment. Finally, we work to restore the location. Each reported incident is visited by officials from the Health Department to ensure the work we do is thorough and completed to highest standards.

Do not judge the industry on its reports but instead on its response. Recognize its commitment to responsibly and quickly act to restore a location and maintain the health of North Dakota’s lands.

Rodgers is vice president, Absorbent & Safety Solutions, an environmental services company in Watford City, N.D. The company provides emergency spill response services in the Bakken, and manages environmental incidents from initial response, to complete remediation, to final environmental reporting. Other services include mobile decontamination, oil well auditing and compliance, waste logistics and environmental containment.