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North Dakota oil spill could be larger than Exxon Valdez event

22 August 2019

The North Dakota Health Department has acknowledged that a 2015 pipeline leak of liquid natural gas is far larger than the initial report of 10 gallons. The environmental blog DeSmog, which uncovered the discrepancy, said that the spill was many orders of magnitude larger.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The blog cited a whistle-blower who provided a draft document on the site clean-up plan, who claimed the spill could be as large as the Exxon Valdez disaster, which released 11 million gallons (50 million litres) of crude.

The initial state report on the 10 gallon spill at Oneok Partners LP’s Garden Creek I gas processing plant was never updated, despite the company telling the state it had recovered 240,000 gallons (1 million litres) of liquid gas and condensate, and that the clean-up was continuing. The whistle-blower said the clean-up could take a further decade.

The Garden Creek spill “is in fact over 11 million gallons of condensate that leaked through a crack in a pipeline for over 3 years,” DeSmog quoted the whistle-blower as saying.

Up to 5.5 million gallons of hydrocarbons have been removed from the site, the 2018 document said, based upon an estimate of approximately 11 million gallons released.

Garden Creek is operated by the ONEOK Partners, and processes natural gas and condensates brought to the facility via pipeline from Bakken wells.

Despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) having no accurate record of the size of the spill, DeSmog said the Garden Creek spill appears to be among the largest recorded oil and gas industry spills in the history of the United States.

The story was subsequently taken up by Associated Press and the Washington Post.

The blog claimed spills were pervasive in North Dakota’s oil industry and have been the focus of numerous media reports. “State regulators have often been unable — or unwilling — to compel energy companies to clean up their mess,” ProPublica reported in a 2012 investigation.

A 2015 Inside Energy article noted state reports “are riddled with inaccuracies and estimates” and cited a 2011 spill of oil and gas wastewater by a Texas-based company listed as 12,600 gallons (60,000 litres) but later determined to be at least two million gallons. An eight-year database of spills compiled by the New York Times in 2014 showed two spills of roughly one million gallons (9 million litres).

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