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Brock: Oil spill response great, but who knew?

Harvey Brock

I always welcome responses to our newspaper's editorials, because at least we know someone is reading them. This week's letter to the editor by Dave Glatt, environmental health section chief for the North Dakota Department of Health, was especially welcomed. (Page A6, Wednesday, Oct. 16).

His op-ed piece let The Press know when Tesoro Logistics notified state and federal officials of an oil pipeline leak late Sunday, Sept. 29. The North Dakota Department of Health and other state agencies immediately began a coordinated emergency notification and response process that continues today.

Glatt wrote that, within hours, seemingly everybody was notified: the county emergency manager, North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, Department of Mineral Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency's National Response Center. The Health Department was on site the morning of Monday, Sept. 30, and Tesoro officials reported that they had shut down the pipe and an estimated 750 barrels of oil had leaked from the company's underground pipeline.

He said the state agreed with Tesoro's report, indicating that the spill did not pose any apparent danger to public safety and didn't threaten groundwater, surface water supplies or other environmental concerns.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, after a week of completing soil borings and performing other site analysis, Tesoro increased its estimated spill volume to 20,600 barrels of oil and informed all agencies previously notified, including the National Response Center.

The nuts and bolts of his column was to explain the response of the North Dakota Department of Health to the pipeline leak under Tioga farmer Dave Jensen's wheat field. Glatt wrote: "Since first notified of the spill, the state's notification and response plan has worked as intended."

Agreed. Everything after the fact seemed to be handled above board and like a well-oiled machine. (Sorry.)

But why, rather than be comforted by the North Dakota Department of Health environmental health section chief's letter, do I find myself wondering what is the plan if the spill that was initially reported as 750 barrels and grew to 20,600 barrels after more investigation had posed a threat to public safety?

How long would it have taken for the public to know?

I would feel better knowing that, in the future, any spill -- regardless of threat to the environment -- would require immediate unrestricted public notification.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press. Email him at