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Veteran of '87 spill shares story with Tioga farmer

About 10 miles northeast of Dickinson, Alan Kadrmas points out the route oil flowed from a leaky pipe to the Russian Spring Creek after a 1987 spill on his farmland.

The relics of the spill are quiet: an oil ring around an old willow tree; algae blooms in the water; in certain light, an oily sheen on Russian Spring Creek.

Nearly three decades after the fact, the not-so-temporary effects of an estimated 15,000-barrel spill about 10 miles northeast of Dickinson are drastically different than the immediate effects Tioga farmer Steve Jensen is seeing with the spill on his land today.

The 1987 spill had lasting effects on the land, former landowner Alan Kadrmas said.

He reached out to Jensen to share his story in light of what Jensen's currently going through -- an estimated 20,600 barrels of crude saturated the soil on his farmland in Tioga last month, and crews are still working on the cleanup.

"I just listened and he himself is not 100 percent satisfied that it was handled and is done as good as it could and should've been," Jensen said of his conversation with Kadrmas. "But each situation's gonna be different."

According to a 1987 letter from Koch Gathering Systems Inc. to the North Dakota Department of Health, expert opinion indicated that the 6-inch opening in the seam of the pipeline under Kadrmas' land could've been caused by corrosion "due to dissimilar metals in the seam."

Koch's Merle Huckstep told the Dunn County Herald that year that a year later, landowners won't see any evidence of the spill.

"This is going to be the cleanest, best looking creek in the county," he said.

Jensen said mixed in with the calls from media he's heard from a few people who have gone through spills themselves. Many of them warned him against settling for a deal with Tesoro Logistics too soon, as they settled in their cases and then found more problems later.

Koch spent about $384,000 on the cleanup and settled with Kadrmas for $70,000.

"Koch reacted promptly to its clean-up obligations and carried them through to completion at considerable expenditure of time and money," the company wrote to the health department. "It appears that the clean-up effort is as complete as the circumstances reasonably allow."

On and off for six months, the crews would burn off the oil, creating huge plumes of black smoke.

"It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen," Kadrmas said.

According to Koch's letter to the Department of Health, the company recovered 9,717 barrels of the escaped oil.

The spill could've been worse.

Since the oil leaked in January, the ground was frozen and didn't absorb the oil. Rather, the oil flowed like a stream along the land and into Russian Spring Creek.

In Tioga, ridding the soil of oil has been a huge focus of cleanup efforts, and it's expected to be a long-term process.

Tesoro Logistics estimates it'll take two to three years to clean up the spill, Jensen previously told Forum News Service.

Kadrmas said he didn't have much communication with Koch during the cleanup -- he even warned them that the oil could spread downstream once the snow melted, but the crews didn't heed his advice and it ended up spreading more oil, he said.

He said he later heard that Koch used his situation in a training seminar -- as a bad example of how to deal with a landowner.

Jensen said he's started piping in more with ideas for cleanup in Tioga.

"You go to sleep thinking about it and you wake up thinking about it," he said. "And lately I've been going up and doing an analysis and doing suggestions and they've actually done something I had asked and it actually showed they haven't done quite enough."

Overall, Jensen said the calls from Kadrmas and other oil spill veterans have encouraged him to stay involved with the cleanup.

"All these calls," he said, "it's given me a sense that I better not get too lazy on this."

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