July 12, 2012

State gets handle on oil spills

State gets handle on oil spills

By Jill Denning Gackle
BHG News Service

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series on how the region is reacting to spills of oil and waste water. This story is an overview of spills and what steps are being taken to protect the environment. The second in the series is about how the Fort Berthold Reservation is being protected. The third story will be about a group of oil companies that are working together to prepare for the worst case scenario. The final story will be about Lake Sakakawea, the fishery and how roads to the favorite fishing and camping spots are being impacted by increased traffic.
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Emergency plans to react to an oil spill were in their infancy 15 months ago. Today they’ve grown – and continue to grow – into a plan to protect the region.
That’s what state, federal and tribal officials say about the steps that have been taken to safeguard the environment from solids, liquids or hazardous material that may be mishandled.
Fifteen months ago, the level of concern for a catastrophic oil spill was enough to make a North Dakota Department of Health official leave a Friends of Lake Sakakawea meeting to say he was heading back to his office to begin immediate action.
At the same meeting March 25, 2011, officials from the Corps of Engineers said the state was not ready and that the coordination between all the players was lacking. An oil-company consortium called Sakakawea Area Spill Response wasn’t yet formed.
Joe Gillies of the environmental department of the Three Affiliated Tribes said it’s no longer “like the Wild Wild West.” Gillies and others say that the state and federal agencies are working together to plan for the worst and to monitor and control any spills that take place.
The state park rangers are getting about a call a month to report a potential spill, according to Ryan Newman, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers natural resource manager. The Three Affiliated Tribes investigated about 50 spills last year and expects to have about the same number this year.
While the state, the tribe and the Corps are coordinating efforts, the Corps’ first action is to investigate the report. Newman said reports made by the public go to a ranger, who contacts local law enforcement to investigate.
“Local law enforcement is your first line of defense. They can show up in minutes, they can file a report in minutes and they can do a cease and desist in minutes,” he said.


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