Scientists question calculations of North Dakota oil leak

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Tesoro Corp, the company that owns the pipeline that leaked North Dakota crude into a farm field in a remote part of the state, first estimated the spill at 750 barrels. A week later, company increased the estimate to 20,600 barrels, or some 865,000 gallons.

The Associated Press reports some scientists question the methodology for arriving at that number. Tesoro Corp. said it came up with its estimate using ground analysis. But oil spill experts say a more accurate assessment likely would come from calculating how much crude went into the pipeline versus what was supposed to come out at its terminus.

Dave Glatt, chief of the state Department of Health's environmental health section, said the state's estimate is based on calculations provided by the company. He added that the release of oil has been stopped and the 7.3-acre spill area has been contained.

Forum Communications reports the pipeline that leaked showed a “serious problem” during an inspection, but the company did not receive the test results until after the spill occurred. What caused the leak is under investigation, but a state geologist said a hole in the pipe may have been caused by corrosion from the outside.

The story said that the 20-year-old pipeline had been sitting idle for about a decade before the line was reopened in August, used to transport crude to a site near the Canadian border. The report also said that Tesoro was in the process of installing real-time pressure monitoring and automatic shut-down devices at the time of the spill. A Tesoro spokeswoman said the line is remotely monitored for pressure.

A Tesoro Logistics spokeswoman said the line is remotely monitored for pressure. The most recent Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration inspection of this pipeline was in August-September of 2010, Tesoro Logistics said.

An editorial in the Fargo Forum decries the lack of transparency about the issue, nothing the leak did not become public knowledge until almost two weeks after it was discovered, when a reporter asked officials about it.

"That long delay in public notification has not been explained and is not acceptable.The public has a right to know – promptly – when spills occur," it went on to say. "Something has gone terribly wrong when a massive oil spill...is discovered by a farmer who smelled petroleum wafting from his wheat field."

The leak is the largest in North Dakota since the Bakken oil boom began.

What caused the leak is under investigation, but Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality, has said a hole in the pipe may have been caused by corrosion from the outside..

A Tesoro Logistics spokeswoman said the line is remotely monitored for pressure. The most recent Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration inspection of this pipeline was in August-September of 2010, Tesoro Logistics said.

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