Jan. 12, 2017
by Amy Dalrymple
FORUM NEWS SERVICE
A bill that would raise the threshold for reporting oil spills got mixed reviews Thursday with proponents saying it would improve government efficiency while opponents advocated for more transparency.
The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard about two hours of testimony on House Bill 1151, which would exempt companies from reporting spills that are contained on a production site that are less than 10 barrels, or 420 gallons.
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, compared a small spill on an oil well site to spilling milk on a coffee tray. Bakken well sites are designed with impermeable layers and perimeter berms so that small spills are contained and easily cleaned up without affecting the environment, Ness said.
“We’re expending a tremendous amount of industry and state resources on these on-pad spills,” Ness told committee members. “Let’s utilize your resources where they’re needed.”
But opponents of the bill pointed out that some North Dakota oil well sites lack the layers of protection that Ness described.
“Absolutely do not allow this to be applied to the Bakken wells that preceded this design, and do not ever allow it on the old wells, the legacy wells,” testified Fintan Dooley, an attorney who has represented North Dakota landowners affected by oil development.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Streyle R-Minot, refers to spills, leaks or releases of fluid.
A few state officials including Greg Wilz of the Department of Emergency Services suggested changing the wording to specify the type of fluid or limit it to oil and produced water, a waste byproduct of oil production.
Wilz and others said they don’t think the reporting threshold should be raised for fluids that are more toxic, such as chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
“Those in some case are some pretty dangerous chemicals,” Wilz said.
Kathleen Spilman, a consultant with Keitu Engineering who develops emergency response plans for the oil and gas industry, supported the bill, emphasizing the administrative burden the reporting standard places on public employees. Under the current system, she estimates 80 county and state employees get email notices about every spill, regardless of size.
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, estimates that two-thirds of oil-related spills reported last year would not have been reported under Streyle’s proposal.
Streyle said his bill would not change the requirement for cleaning up all spills. In addition, his bill would still require every spill that is off of a production location to be reported, which is more restrictive than federal requirements.
The North Dakota Farmers Union, the Northwest Landowners Association and the Dakota Resource Council all opposed raising the threshold for spill reporting.
“I think producers want to know if there are some spills on their land,” said Kayla Pulvermacher, member advocacy director for the Farmers Union.
Karen Erickstad of Bismarck testified that reports of frequent small spills may be a red flag for regulators that could prevent larger spills.
“I think we should keep this data,” Erickstad said. “I think transparency is worth it.”