North Dakota farmer makes crude discovery: largest oil spill on US soil

Published October 15, 2013

| FoxNews.com

When Steve Jensen saw crude oil bubbling up from the ground on his North Dakota farm, he knew immediately he wasn't having a Jed Clampett moment.

Unlike the classic "Beverly Hillbillies" character who struck it rich with oil, Jensen figured the "black gold" was coming from the pipeline that runs under his 1,800-acre wheat farm, carrying oil from the Bakken formation to a rail facility 45 miles north. Instead of getting rich, Jensen, 56, has been left with a huge mess -- his acreage in Tioga fouled by the largest oil spill on U.S. soil in history.

"It had been leaking for awhile," Jensen, who spied -- and smelled -- the leak on Sept. 29, told FoxNews.com Tuesday. He said the oil was gushing from a "perfectly round, quarter-inch hole" with "about 100 pounds pressure."

Most of the spilled oil was below the ground, but Jensen said he could see the oil bubbling 6 inches high on his land while he was out harvesting durum wheat. Before it was plugged, the leak spewed 20,600 barrels of crude oil -- enough oil to fill three Olympic-size swimming pools.

San Antonio-based Tesoro Logistics, which owns the 20-year-old North Dakota pipeline, said Tuesday that it will repair and replace a 200-foot section of the tube.

"Once extracted, a portion of the pipeline will be sent to an independent lab for analysis,'' Tesoro spokeswoman Megan Arredondo said in a statement. 

Jensen is all for analysis, but he's also looking to be made whole.

"I’m not going to be able to farm that land for a few years and they’ll be compensation for sure," Jensen said, adding that negotiations with the company have not yet begun. "That is going to come later. We're looking at a two to three-year cleanup." 

It took nearly two weeks for officials to tell the public about the massive rupture that occurred in a remote area of Tioga. Officials claim no water was contaminated or wildlife hurt. But environmentalists are skeptical and say it's an example of a boom industry operating too cozily with state regulators.

"North Dakota and Bakken have become coveted areas for oil executives bent on getting the most extreme and remote fossil fuels out of the ground now that the 'easy' reserves are on the decline," Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford told FoxNews.com. "As we saw in Mayflower, Arkansas, earlier this year, pipelines spill, and so as long as we let oil companies keep us locked into these forms of extreme fossil fuels, we'll continue to see spills like these."

Jensen said the area hit "isn't home to much wildlife," but noted that the spill is "pretty detrimental to any living organism that’s in the ground." He also said that any grain within a half mile of the spill would not be sold for consumption. 

The North Dakota Health Department said that while companies must notify the state of any spills, the state doesn't have to release that information to the public. That's not unusual in major oil-producing states.

But the public is often told about spills, particularly if oil gets into a waterway or otherwise threatens the environment.

The pipeline, which stretches 35 miles, was built by BP in 1993 and bought by Tesoro in 2001.

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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