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North Dakota Changes Spill Disclosure Policy

Sparked by a 20,000 bbl leak from a Tesoro Logistics LP pipeline that went unreported in September by state officials for days, North Dakota is redefining its policy for handling oil and natural gas releases, resulting in a series of reports of small incidents in recent weeks. Longer term, state officials are working on a new set of guidelines affecting both the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) Oil/Gas Division and the Department of Health.

"The new reporting system is new state policy for now with many of the details in the works," a DMR spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily on Monday.

The changes were in response to both requests from the general public, as well as the news media, urging greater transparency when it comes to spills in the burgeoning Bakken-Three Forks Shale plays, the DMR spokesperson said.

For an interim period, public announcements will come from DMR whenever there is release of more than 250 bbl that remains contained within the wellsite, the spokesperson said. "If fluids were to get off location, the [public disclosure] would come from state Health Department officials."

Later on Monday, the Department of Health reported that it was monitoring a 200 bbl fluid release of flowback water in Burke County, about four miles southeast of McGregor, ND.

Reported by Petro-Hunt LLC, the release has been contained and is being cleaned up, according to state health officials. Health department inspectors were dispatched onsite to monitor the clean-up activities, according to a health department spokesperson.

In October, a leak involving a Tesoro pipeline in a wheat field northeast of Tioga, ND, caused an outcry for more transparency regarding spills (see Shale Daily, Oct. 28). At the time, state officials defended their position of not reporting the many small spills that happen related to Bakken oil and natural gas production.

There are no legal requirements that the state disclose spill information publicly, but the DMR and other state officials faced increased criticism about the Tesoro leak, which was discovered Sept. 29 but only made public 11 days later through an Associated Press (AP) news report. Since the report, AP has uncovered  292 other incidents, leaking a combined 1,130 bbl during the past two years.

As a result, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration early in November issued a safety order to the Tesoro High Plains Pipeline in response to the rupture in North Dakota (see Shale Daily, Nov. 4). Nevertheless, CEO Greg Goff reported on a recent quarterly earnings conference call that Tesoro's two refineries handling Bakken crude in North Dakota and Washington state were not affected by the pipeline spill (see Shale Daily, Nov. 12).

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