Cleanup of oil spill at ND farm to take 2 more years

BISMARCK, N.D. — At Steve and Patty Jensen’s northwestern North Dakota farm, crews have been working around-the-clock after a pipeline break spilled more than 20,000 barrels of oil into their wheat field almost two years ago.

State regulators believe workers will be at the site another 2 ½ years.

“It’s now just become part of our lives,” Patty Jensen said of the massive spill from a Tesoro Corp. pipeline that was discovered in September 2013 by her husband.

“They are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But it’s so big and it’s not as easy to clean up as they thought it would be,” she said.

Tesoro and federal regulators have said a lightning strike may have caused the rupture in the 6-inch-diameter steel pipeline, which runs from Tioga to a rail facility outside of Columbus, near the Canadian border. The spill has been called one of the largest onshore spills in U.S. history, covering 7.3 acres of land, about the size of seven football fields. The company had estimated cleanup would take two years.

Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the state Health Department, said Friday that inspectors now believe it will take a total of four years to clean up. Regulators have said the spill caused no damage to water or wildlife.

Tesoro, in a statement, said more than 6,000 barrels of oil have been recovered from the spill site.

“Our primary goal of remediation continues to be to restore the property to agricultural use, and protect groundwater,” the company’s statement said. “We do not have any new information to share beyond previous timeline guidance.”

Suess, who has been inspecting the site weekly, said much of the rest of the crude is being baked from the soil using a process called thermal desorption. Suess said cleanup crews intend to increase thermal desorption equipment at the site to speed the process.

Tesoro earlier had estimated it would take about $4 million to clean up the site but revised it months later to $20 million. The company declined to give any new cost estimates.

Seuss said the state is only concerned with ensuring the land gets back to normal and able to grow crops.

“Our position is that they are going to clean it up and it’s not our concern how much it costs them,” Suess said.

FILE - This Oct. 11, 2013 file photo shows cleanup at the site of an oil pipeline leak and spill near Tioga, N.D. (AP Photo/Kevin Cederstrom, File)
FILE – This Oct. 11, 2013 file photo shows cleanup at the site of an oil pipeline leak and spill near Tioga, N.D. (AP Photo/Kevin Cederstrom, File)
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