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ND House passes eliminating reporting of small oil spills, but landowners opposed

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, testifies in favor of a bill Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, that would change the threshold for oil spill reporting. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service1 / 2
Pumping units are pictured near Williston, N.D., on Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service2 / 2

BISMARCK - A bill that would reduce the number of oil spills reported in North Dakota got a green light Wednesday, Jan. 25, from state House lawmakers, but a landowner group plans to keep raising concerns about the proposal.

House legislators voted 82-11 in favor of House Bill 1151, which would no longer require companies to report spills of crude oil, produced water or natural gas that are contained to a well site or production location and are less than 10 barrels, or 420 gallons.

"It will make government more efficient by focusing resources on spills that pose a threat to health, safety and the environment," said Rep. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, noting that the bill does not change the requirement to clean up all spills.

The bill was supported by the oil industry but opposed by landowners during a two-hour committee hearing.

The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee made amendments to the bill in response to some of the concerns raised, Anderson said. One change was to require that all legacy oil sites continue to report spills of 1 barrel and above unless they upgrade the sites with modern containment berms and other safeguards.

The Northwest Landowners Association, which represents 500 farmers, ranchers and property owners, plans to continue opposing the bill when it's under consideration by the Senate, said Chairman Troy Coons.

"It feels like it goes against protecting our environment and our property," he said. "It goes against who North Dakotans are."

The landowners would like to see the bill become law, but they prefer that oil companies report all spills that are above 1 barrel, or 42 gallons, regardless of the location of the spill, Coons said.

Supporters of the bill say reporting small spills that are contained to sites designed to protect the environment is an administrative burden on the state. But there was no fiscal note with the bill so it's unclear what cost savings the bill would provide.

When asked how much time the bill would save staff at the Department of Mineral Resources, spokeswoman Alison Ritter said "probably not much."

Oil and gas field inspectors do not immediately respond to a spill of 10 barrels or less that is contained on site, Ritter said. During routine inspections, staff check on possible spills to ensure they have been cleaned up, she said.

The North Dakota Department of Health would not be affected by the bill because the agency does not respond to spills contained to oilfield sites.

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