Can we trust anything we're hearing about North Dakota's oil spill?

New questions raised about the extent of the spill that officials took 11 days to make public

Published October 16, 2013 1:19PM (EDT)

The Associated Press isn't exactly suggesting that North Dakota's recent oil spill was in fact even bigger than what's being reported, but it is questioning whether the current estimate -- 20,600 barrels, or about 865,000 gallons -- is accurate.

Oil spill experts told the AP that the method used by Tesoro Corp., the company that operates the pipeline, to estimate the amount spilled, is likely "at best, a guess." And in a statement, Tesoro was less than forthcoming about its process:

The company said its "site investigation was developed based on well-established and recognized American Petroleum Institute, Geologic Society of America and American Institute of Professional Geologists standards."

Jack Hess, executive director of the Geologic Society of America, and Bill Siok, executive director of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, said their groups have no such standards.

"We've never issued any guidelines over oil spills," Hess said. "That's not the kind of business we are in and something we wouldn't get into."

Word didn't surface of the spill until October 10 -- a full 11 days after farmer Steve Jensen noticed oil "spewing and bubbling 6 inches high" from an underground pipeline, and 10 days after Tesoro notified state officials.

What took so long?

Officials at the North Dakota Department of Health told NPR that they were slow to recognize the extent of the spill. Once they did, according to Reuters, the shutdown prevented the U.S. National Response Center from filing a report as quickly as they normally would. "There's a lot of revenue coming in from oil and gas development out here," Theodora Bird Bear, of the Dakota Resource Council, told NPR. "But there's also a lot of costs that are unmeasured and never really acknowledged. North Dakota can do better."

Even at its current estimate, the leak is one of the largest in North Dakota's history.

By Lindsay Abrams

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North Dakota Oil Industy Oil Spill