North Dakota is now reeling after experiencing one of the largest oil spills in its history.
A farmer, Steve Jensen, discovered the spill on Sept. 29. While harvesting wheat, he noticed crude oil spewing up from the ground. However, he had been smelling crude oil for days while in the area before actually seeing any.
Now it's mid-October, and this quiet incident has escalated into disaster. The oil that was bubbling up in the field came from a break in the Tesoro Corp.'s 20-year-old underground pipeline. Tesoro has now lost enough oil to fill 20,600 barrels in a spill spread out over 7.3 acres. Luckily, the accident occurred in the remote, extremely rural northwestern corner of the state. Reportedly, no one was injured, no wildlife was harmed, and no water sources were jeopardized. Still, Jensen claims that his affected farmland will be unusable for at least several years, and the clean-up is expected to cost about $4,000,000.
The spill has now been contained. But the incident has raised questions yet again on the role that government should play in regulating Big Oil. Jensen reported the spill to state officials, but it was 12 days before either the officials or Tesoro informed the public about the incident. Environmentalists complain that powerful oil companies have cowed state governments and their regulatory agencies, allowing these businesses essentially to do what they like. With such lax oversight, environmental activists insist that such disasters have become increasingly common.
Perhaps they are right. An Arkansas oil spill occurred in late March in part because of a lack of regulatory oversight. The leak in the 70-year-old pipeline resulted from a manufacturing defect. More than 20 homes were evacuated because of the incident.