Audio: Lawmaker Says His Bill Would Have Stopped Reporting of Most 2016 Oil Industry Spills

Crews work at an oil well site near Williston, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

Last week I wrote about HB1151, introduced by state Rep. Roscoe Streyle, a Republican from Minot.

The legislation is pretty simple. It would limit the number of oil industry fluid spills reported in the State of North Dakota. Here’s the specific text (I put the full text of the bill in my original post):

The legislation, if passes, would prevent the reporting of any spills if two criteria are met: First that the spill is contained and second that it amounts to 10 barrels or less.

Which is actually the federal standard. When North Dakota adopted its spill reporting rules the state required essentially that every single spill be reported. This is something which inflates data about North Dakota’s spills, making it seem as though North Dakota has more spills than other states, something certain journalists and political activists have taken advantage of.

In 2016 there were 1,546 spills in the State of North Dakota. Of that total, 907 were of 10 barrels or less, which is about 58 percent. Also, just 356 of the spills got off the well pads, meaning nearly 77 percent of all reported spills in the state were entirely contained and thus had pretty much zero environmental impact.

I had Rep. Streyle on my radio show on Friday to talk about the legislation, among other things, and he revealed some interesting data he had Legislative Council collect from the state Department of Health.

In 2016 there were 1,546 spills in the State of North Dakota. Of that total, 907 were of 10 barrels or less, which is about 58 percent.

Also, just 356 of the spills got off the well pads, meaning nearly 77 percent of all reported spills in the state were entirely contained and thus had pretty much zero environmental impact.

Of course, those are facts which aren’t often included in reports or political debates about North Dakota’s handling of spills.

I suspect that Streyle’s legislation is going to get a lot of attention, because at face value it looks like less transparency and accountability for the oil industry. That’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable.

But I think we have to do something to avoid producing misleading data about spills in our state. Maybe we don’t go so far as preventing the reporting of the small, contained spills. Maybe, instead, we should report those spills in a separate category.

The spills the public should care about, the spills we want to solve, are the large spills and/or the spills which aren’t contained.

Small, contained spills should be, if reported at all, a separate data point.

Here’s the full interview:

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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