A North Dakota Department of Health website which will allow the public to access information on all oil spills and other hazardous leaks reported in the state was slated to go live on Dec.4.
“Pursuant to state rules, any spills in the state must be reported to the Department of Health and to the (Department of Mineral Resources) Oil and Gas Division,” Dave Glatt, chief of the department’s environmental health section, told Petroleum News Bakken. “All of the information we get on the forms that are filed with the Department of Health will be on the website.”
Planning for the website preceded the 20,000-barrel Tesoro oil pipeline leak that was discovered in late September by a farmer harvesting wheat. It took almost two weeks for that spill to be reported to the public by state officials.
“The website was in the works prior to the Tesoro spill; we had a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests that were taking up staff time,” Glatt said. “The Tesoro spill accelerated that time line.”
Glatt said the department is opting for maximum transparency to lawmakers and the public on all manner of spills in the state.
“We’ve gotten good response overall,” Glatt said. “Some people don’t think it’s a good idea, but overall most people appreciate the transparency.”
There will be a section on the public website providing an identification of each spill, its location, the county, the size of the spill and reports of spill amounts recovered, if any, he said. The section will include updates on whether the spill has been contained or not, and progress reports of the cleanup efforts. For those requiring more detailed information there will be a link to the department’s complete file on each spill.
The spill reporting will be divided into two categories, Glatt said. The first category will detail oil and gas spills. A second “general spill” category will include agriculture-related spills, industrial spills, municipal spill reports and spills resulting from truck or car accidents.
The oil and gas spill database will feature all of the spills in the most recent 12 month period, Glatt said. A historic section will list spills older than 12 months with searchable records back to 1975.
According to a report by The Associated Press, the state had nearly 300 pipeline spills — many of them small — in the last two years that were not publicly announced.
Glatt said department officials are still considering how large a spill should trigger a public announcement.
The department processes an average of about five reports of hazardous spills daily, or about 1,500 annually, he said. The majority involve very small and are cleaned up the same day.
“All spills which may potentially impact waters of the state, either surface water or ground water, must be reported,” health department guidelines say. “This includes all substances, not just ‘hazardous materials.’”
The department said “non toxic” substances such as molasses or salt may not be immediately harmful to human health, but they may impact aquatic life or soil fertility.
Glatt said the web address of the public spill website will be announced in a press release once the site goes live. He said a link will also be provided at the department’s website: www.ndhealth.gov/