Oil Industry Doing Good Job With Cleanup After Tioga Pipeline Spill


It is an unfortunate truth about journalism that positive stories generally aren’t considered all that newsy. Thus it is that when an oil pipeline spilled a huge quantity of oil near Tioga, North Dakota – over 20,000 barrels of oil were spilled thanks to a leak caused by a lightning strike – it was national and even international news. Yet when the oil company in question does an excellent job of cleaning the spill up, treating landowners with respect along the way, it becomes a buried lede.

Case in point, the headline to this Amy Dalrymple story about the Tioga oil spill two years later is, “Two years after Tioga, N.D., spill, dirty pile still dwarfs clean pile.” And while yes, Tesoro and its various contractors still have a lot of contaminated soil to process yet – state regulators estimate that they’re about halfway done – the larger story here is Tesoro going above and beyond to make things right.

For instance, the relationship between the property owners and the clean up crews is an excellent one:

Jensen keeps close tabs on the cleanup site, where the motto is “As long as Miss Patty’s happy, everyone’s happy.” She brings the workers homemade pie and they keep the office Keurig coffee maker stocked for her.

“The relationship between Tesoro and their consultants and subcontractors and the landowners is one of the best I’ve ever dealt with,” Suess said. “That goes a long way to make this a smooth-running project.”

The property owners have a huge amount of respect for, and confidence in, the company doing the clean up:

The Jensens say they have a lot of confidence in the contractor, Nelson Environmental Remediation of Alberta, Canada, which operates the TDU system and carefully separates topsoil from other layers.

“They’ve done this all over the world,” Jensen said. “They know what they’re doing.”

And the property owners have confidence that their land will be restored to the same condition it was pre-spill, if not better:

Co-owner Warren Nelson said the process will restore the land so it’s productive for farming.

“It’ll go back to as good if not better condition,” Nelson said.

It seems to me that these elements of the story should be the headline, not the fact that there is still a lot of contaminated soil from the spill left to process.

So often, because oil is something of a political pinata, these spills are treated as though they’re catastrophic, life-ruining, never-to-be-recovered from events. This is pushed by people who, for ideological reasons, hate oil and the “big oil” industry.

Yet here we have evidence that a pipeline spill – even one as large as this one was – is something that can be fixed and recovered from.

Inconvenient truth for the oil haters. Oh, and by the way, guess what’s probably giving Tesoro the proper amount of motivation to make things right? The fact that the state is so far withholding fines for the spill:

The North Dakota Department of Health will fine Tesoro Logistics because of the spill, but the amount has not yet been determined, said Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section.

The penalty will take into consideration how quickly the company responded and how thorough the response is, Glatt said.

“Tesoro has been very responsive in getting to the cleanup, even though it’s costing them a lot of money,” Glatt said. “They’ve been committed to getting it cleaned up and bringing in more help as needed.”

North Dakota’s policy of waiving or reducing fines for companies that do a good job of responding to spills has come under fire from environmental activists, yet with the Tioga spill we see the pragmatism of that policy. The state holding back on the fine is leverage to ensure that the oil company makes things right. If Tesoro does a good job – and so far they seem to be doing a great job – their fine will likely be less (the land owners want Tesoro only to reimburse the state for the costs of responding to the spill and overseeing cleanup which seems fair).

What’s more important here? That Tesoro pays a big fine, or that Tesoro cleans up the spill and restores the land to pristine condition? People not blinkered by hatred for “big oil” would probably say the latter.