Written by Chet
An "EcoNews" headline jumped out at me this morning. The headline read "Internal Documents Reveal Coverup in North Dakota Oil Spill."
"Wow," I thought to myself. "I've seen some internal documents, and they don't 'reveal' the coverup I personally believe went on after the recent massive oil spill near Tioga, North Dakota."
So I read the story. You should too. Here's an excerpt (and a link to the whole thing, if you want to read it.)
Possibly Knew Their Pipeline was Dangerously Weak
Tesoro ran tests on the pipeline that ruptured more than two weeks before the spill was discovered.
A robot, known as a “smart pig,” detected weaknesses in the pipeline on Sept.10 and 11. Tesoro claims that they did not have ample time to digest the data before the spill, but Tesoro employees on the ground tell a different story. Furthermore, once the pipeline spill was discovered, Tesoro dispatched crews to check two other sites on the pipeline for leaks, indicating they were aware of potential fail points in the pipeline.
And that's probably the most damning "reveal" in the whole EcoWatch story. There's other stuff, sure, but nothing that really "reveals" a cover-up. And it's kind of not even accurate. The internal documents show Tesoro had done some testing in the general area where the spill occured, but those records don't conclusively show that Tesoro had specifically tested the pipe at the location of the Tioga spill. It's just not clear. So it doesn't "reveal" a "coverup" or anything else, really.
Don't get me wrong here, either; I totally believe there was a cover up. Yeah, I wrote that: I believe North Dakota government officials participated in a cover-up of the Tioga oil spill. The problem is that every one of the workers at the State Health Department probably has three standing job offers to go to work for some corrupt oil field service company right now, and those job offers would dry up in a heart beat if they told the truth in an email they KNOW can be obtained through a simple open records request from any schlep at Greenpeace or the New York Times. Or me. This is one more reason why we need an ethics commission in North Dakota.
But EcoNews does noone any good with the headline that says something that -- while likely true -- they can't even prove in their own story.
NorthDecoder is here to provide a service. The EcoWatch story links -- in a couple places -- to some of the "internal documents" that "reveal" a coverup in North Dakota. By coincidence, I suppose, I requested all the same documents Greenpeace requested. And I'm not going to selectively give them to you, redacted, like Greenpeace and EcoWatch did. I'm just going to give you the whole banana. This all comes from a public records request made to the ND Department of Health. It's all public record. I'm redacting nothing because any citizen could get all this same information if they just sent a request for it.
North Dakota Department of Health Public Records relating to Tioga Oil Spill
Written by Chet
Republicans are outraged -- OUTRAGED!!!, I say -- about the fact that uninsured people are having trouble with getting enrolled to buy insurance on the healthcare exchange Republicans despise so much. (Good God, I hope the irony in that last sentence isn't lost on people.) They're mad that the incredibly complex, 36-state insurance exchange system -- with income and identity verification systems built into it -- isn't working perfectly, while being overloaded with uninsured applicants trying to use the systems. Republicans are calling for the firing of administrators responsible for overseeing the contracts with vendors hired to set up the complex IT system.
So this big dust-up about the problems with the technology behind the ACA implementation got me thinking about stuff in North Dakota. What about North Dakota Republicans? Are they outraged? Do they get outraged when IT projects don't go exactly as planned? Do we have anything comparable -- on a North Dakota scale -- here in North Dakota?
And, yeah, we do.
Remember how North Dakota's Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) is years behind on a big IT upgrade? WSI hired a company called "Aon" to overhaul its computer system back in 2007. The project had a scheduled, original completion date of December 31, 2009, and a budget of $14 million. Here's a snippet from a Bismarck Teabune story from January of this year...
The company had been under contract with WSI since 2007 to overhaul its computer system. The project had an original completion date of Dec. 31, 2009, and its total budget was $17.8 million, up from $14 million when work began.
“To date, WSI has spent about $17 million in total project costs. I’m very, very disappointed with that number,” [WSI CEO Brian] Klipfel said.
So the project is now four years behind schedule and 27% over budget. And WSI's CEO is just "disappointed"?
Remember all the Republicans calling for Klipfel's head? Remember the NDGOP's top officials calling for Klipfel to "resign or befired"!?! No? Didn't think so. That's because it never happened.
Dude is lucky he's not fired. He's lucky he's not been identified as a Democrat. RNC Chariman RNC PR BS is demanding Kathleen Sebelius resign or be fired as HHS director because of the problems with the Affordable Care Act website. So is Mittens Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. So are various other Republican chowderheads. That's because moran Republicans think technology is easy and accountability is necessary for Democrats only.
(Speaking of accountability, have you heard anything about congressional hearings on America getting lied into a war in Iraq? No? Me either.)
And the WSI computer system overhaul isn't the only North Dakota state government computer overhaul where rabid, partisan asshats could point the finger and say some department head ought to be fired or resign.
Yeah, it's too bad the ACA roll-out didn't go perfectly. Yeah, lots of things need work. But that doesn't mean Sebelius (or Klipfel or other North Dakota agency heads who've overseen huge, failed IT projects) should be fired. They just need to do their jobs. And the obstructionists certainly aren't offering any help. No, hater's gonna hate; obstructionist is gonna obstruct. Maybe it'd be easier for Sebelius to do her job if she didn't have mutton-heads demanding she -- and other people who have better things to do -- waste time being interrogated by them in some congressional committee.
Just a thought.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog")
Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.
The Ballad of Jed Clampett
Well, it would be fun to think that was what happened up in Williams County to cause what is now described as the largest ever land-based oil spill in America. But Jed Clampett didn’t shoot a hole in Tesoro Petroleum’s pipeline, unleashing 865,000 gallons of crude oil, I don’t think.
So how did all that oil get out of the pipeline, and into the air, and on and under the ground, in such a short period of time? That’s a question that’s going to be answered eventually, I hope, because we need to know that answer to try to figure out how never to let it happen again.
As I said the other day, I’m an English major, so I just love to do simple math problems, as a sense of accomplishment, if for nothing else. All the newspaper stories I’ve seen say the oil came from a quarter-inch hole in an underground pipeline. So I asked a friend the other day “How long does it take for 865,000 gallons of oil to get through a quarter-inch hole in a pipeline?” In fact, I asked several friends. The common response was, “I suppose it depends on how much pressure there was in the pipe.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “but it was a hole the size of a pencil. How much will actually fit through a hole that size at one time, even with a lot of pressure? Besides, the pipe was underground, so it had to push away some dirt to get out of the hole.”
Okay, let’s do some math. I took my garden hose—five-eighths of an inch across, more than twice the size of that quarter-inch hole in the pipeline—and filled a five-gallon pail. Took a couple of minutes. But let’s assume there was more pressure in that pipe than in my garden hose. A lot more. Let’s say, because of pressure behind it, it could spurt five gallons of that thick, bubbly crude a minute out of that ¼ inch hole, about twice as much as my 5/8 inch hose. At that rate, it would take 173,000 minutes to emit 865,000 gallons. That’s 2,883 hours and 20 minutes. Or about 120 days, about 4 months.
Okay, okay, if it had been leaking that long, surely someone—Tesoro, or the farmer who owned the land and had planted a crop there last spring—would have noticed it. Besides, the wheat grew, matured, ripened and was combined, and it wouldn’t have done that in a pool of oil.
So let’s say it leaked twice that much—ten gallons a minute. At ten gallons a minute, it’s really shooting out of that quarter-inch hole. For 60 days. Two months. Still not reasonable? Okay, let’s say 20 gallons a minute. Now we’re talking a geyser the likes of which we haven’t seen since the movie “Giant.” I mean, to get 20 gallons of thick gooey oil out of a quarter-inch hole in a pipe in one minute, now that would be something to see. At that rate, it would have been gushing for 30 days, according to my math.
But wait. Tesoro said they ran a “smart pig” though the line during an inspection just a couple weeks before the spill was reported on Sept. 29. Inspected the pipe September 10-11, they said. Holy cow! If the pipeline started leaking the day after that test, it had to have been gushing about 40 gallons a minute. I’m trying to picture 40 gallons of oil coming out of a ¼ inch hole in a minute. An underground pipeline. I can’t see it in my mind’s eye.
I’m sorry, folks, but something is just not adding up here. Somebody is not telling the truth here. It is time to find out. Because there are hundreds, maybe thousands of miles of underground pipe in North Dakota. It is time for our state officials to get to the bottom of this. There has to be a record of how much oil went into that pipe every day. There has to be a record of how much oil came out the other end every day. So we’re going to know for sure someday how much leaked. Then we need to know exactly how much oil can come through a pencil-sized hole at certain amounts of pressure. I wish I knew that. Because then maybe I wouldn’t be so suspicious that the hole in the pipe was waaaaaay bigger than we’ve been led to believe. Or that it had been leaking a looooong time, undetected by an irresponsible company.
P.S. My friend Jeff sent me this story today, showing how really bad things can be, but also how quickly some pipeline companies can react to a spill. Looks like we got “lucky” that we were only dealing with a quarter inch hole. Or so.
Written by Chet
Remember when the Bismarck Tribune's most-recent editor resigned from his job at the Tribune and wrote a fairly vicious attack on a certain blogger -- yours truly -- suggesting the blogger had engaged in "personal character assassination attempts" against him because the blogger suggested his musings at the Tribune were biased?
Yeah, probably not. You probably don't remember. So I'll give it to you again. It's still online. Here's an excerpt (and I'll put a link to the whole thing after the excerpt):
A Bismarck blogger asked, after the announcement of my retirement, if I would talk with him, on the record. He said he was working on a story about the rumors of why so many people were leaving the Tribune. His request seemed to drip conspiracy theory and nefarious deeds. While any such theory is incorrect, his request came days after writing this:
"If John Irby at the Bismarck Teabune or Jack Zaleski at the Fargo For'em had any integrity at all - any - they'd tell the truth about their newspapers and the slanted ‘news' they publish, and then resign (or be fired) too."
Those might have been some of the kindest words he's ever written about me or my employer.
Here's a funny question about that blogger - do you think he believes he has no agenda or political bias? Can he seriously think he has been objective and factual in his posts?
His slant is, in fact, excessive.
I responded to his inquiry by suggesting I might talk with him after my last day on the job. Then again, I might not. What are the odds?
Seriously, in my retirement, I wish him the best and I hope he takes me out of his mixed bag of media and personal character assassination attempts.
Well... he never did take me up on my request for an interview. I never really expected him to agree to being interviewed. That's fine. (I wrote THIS PIECE about his closing salvo at the time.)
But I like to say "North Dakota is a small town." Others say it's "a small town with really long streets." Irby and I have mutual friends. One of our mutual friends is, apparently, Jim Fuglie. Jim, as you know, writes great stuff for his blog -- "The Prairie Blog" -- and has given me permission to cross post his blog posts. Wednesday you saw Jim's most recent blog post. Irby did too and commented on Jim's Facebook wall in response to the post. Here's what he wrote:
OK Jim, so what do "we" do to make it stop? It's great to write about it but does that alone make a difference? I tried to write about this kind of stuff when I was editor of the Tribune but got censored (one of the reasons I left). But what now? How about we form a task force of concerned citizens and meet in public and talk about possible solutions. I'm serious. Isn't there something "we" can do now that could make an impact and stop the runaway locomotive?
Facebook.com (emphasis added)
Here it is.
Okay, so this is really embarassing and horrible, but I saw what Irby wrote Wednesday and really thought nothing of it. Why?!? Because every unbiased, intelligent observer knows there's horrible, irresponsible pro-oil and pro-Republican censorship in the Tribune of news stories critical of oil development and Republicans. I feel bad that I didn't think this confession was a big deal when I first read it. Then, for some reason, it came across my FB newsfeed again yesterday. I re-read that sentence: "I tried to write about this kind of stuff when I was editor of the Tribune but got censored (one of the reasons I left)."
Wait, what?!? One of the reasons Irby left the Tribune was that his writing was censored?!?
That doesn't make any sense. In his "Good Bye Cruel World" (GBCW) farewell piece, above, Irby specifically told us "the real truth" about why he left the Bismarck Tribune. He even used the words "the real truth." The "real truth" about why he left was that he was tired of the criticism about bias he suffered through from a mean blogger. He was tired of always getting criticism from Tribune readers who accused him and the Tribune of bias. He gave numerous examples of those vicious, unfair attacks.
Sure, you could pick through his farewell piece and argue that when he talks about "institutional concerns" he supported and agreed with them, and that those were about him being censored. But if you look at the context of that "real truth," for example, you'll see he's talking about the Tribune's censorship policy as it related to vulgar, obscene, lewd, etc., comments below stories (something I think the Tribune has discontinued entirely, now.) When he talks about being a "whipping boy" to "one and all," he's obviously not talking about being censored; the context of the whole piece is that meanies like that one evil blogger are accusing him of showing bias.
Well... now he admits the evil blogger was right. Now he admits all the readers' observations about bias were true. And that, my friends, is kind of a big deal. Now, he all but admits that my conspiracy-dripping inquiry was pretty much spot-on. Now that he's off the Tribune's payroll. How courageous!
I spoke to a Lions Club luncheon about blogging earlier this week. It was kind of fun. (I even put together a PowerPoint presentation for it.) When I told the group I had been contacted on multiple occasions during my blogging "career" by mainstream media journalists who asked me if I would please cover a big story because they couldn't, the Lions' reaction was both visible and audible. I think there were people in the room who had no idea this goes on. But it does. And it's something I wish more people understood.
And Irby still hasn't called to do that interview.
And I'm still not holding my breath.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog")
There so much news coming out of the Oil Patch I can hardly absorb it. And, frankly, it scares the hell out of me. Partly because there really are things to be scared about, and partly because there is so much misinformation being spread around that I feel we’re in daily danger of not being able to trust anyone, and not be able to tell when we’re being lied to. For example:
The Forum today reports:
The Bureau of Land Management’s North Dakota office is sitting on more than 500 oil and gas drilling permit applications, the White House told Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s office this week.
Which prompted this response from Heitkamp:
(Heitkamp) said companies with rigs with outstanding permits may move to private land because they’re sick of waiting. “We’ve been keeping pretty close tabs on all of these impacts.”
Which prompted this response from North Dakota Petroleum Council spokesperson Tessa Sandstrom:
NDPC spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom said the shutdown will only add to delays. “They already struggle to keep up,” she said of the BLM. “Now they’re just gonna be that much further behind.”
Okay, ladies, stop with the bullshit. Neither one of you knows what you’re talking about, or if you do, you’re being deceitful.
First, Senator Heitkamp. Heidi, you’ve been snookered. You don’t really believe companies with drilling permits are sitting around a campfire out on the National Grasslands waiting for a federal permit, do you? “May move to private land because they’re tired of waiting.”? C’mon.
- Every single drilling rig the industry can get its hands on is active. None are sitting idle.
- If you check the oil and gas division website, you’ll find that the number of rigs drilling on federal land in any given month since the boom started varies between 0 and 6. More often 0 than 6. Mostly, there are just one or two drilling rigs on federal land. Why? Because the industry has ten-year leases on federal land, and just three or five year leases on private land, so they have to get those private leases drilled before they expire, or they will lose their investment in the lease. There’s no rush on the federal leases.
Second, Tessa Sandstrom. Read what I just wrote to Heidi. You are being disingenuous by saying there are going to be more “delays” to the oil industry. That’s B.S. and you know it. There’s not going to be a line of oil company executives standing outside the door of the BLM office when it reopens for business. Or any time after that. The oil companies are so busy drilling in Mountrail and Divide and Williams counties, etc., that they are not even paying attention to their federal leases. It’s bullshit like this that causes you to lose credibility with people like me.
For the record, here are the numbers of drilling rigs working on federal land so far in the calendar year 2013 (you can get this yourself from the Oil and Gas Division website):
Date the BLM shut its doors because of the federal: shutdown: October 1, 2013.
THE TIOGA OIL SPILL
Here’s another report from Today’s Forum:
BISMARCK — Scientists who helped calculate oil spilled from a broken BP well into the Gulf of Mexico are questioning the methodology used to estimate the amount of crude that recently leaked from a ruptured pipeline into a wheat field in northwestern North Dakota. Tesoro Corp. said it came up with its more than 20,000-barrel spill 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. (emphasis mine)
To calculate the amount of oil spilled, Tesoro, in a statement issued to the Associated Press, 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.”
But wait. Someone from the Associated Press decided to call the Geologic Society of America and the American Institute of Professional Geologists to verify that claim. Again, from The Forum story:
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. (emphasis mine)
“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.”
Siok said: “I’m stumped. I kind of suspect they made an incorrect reference.”
Yeah. Or something like that. That was pretty polite there, Mr. Siok. I wonder what you said privately in your telephone call to Tesoro. Something like “#@%&%$#@%***&%$@***,” maybe?
In other words, if we are to believe expert geologists with no dog in the fight, we have no idea how much really leaked. Once more from The Forum:
Purdue University engineering professor Steve Wereley said Tesoro’s calculation of how much oil it released in the North Dakota wheat field likely is “at best, a guess.” Wereley, who along with other scientists helped estimate the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf in 2010, said he was unaware of any scientific studies that could back Tesoro’s estimates. Wereley and Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University oceanographer who also worked on spill estimates in the Gulf, said detailed oil flow data from the pipeline would provide regulators with a better estimate of the amount of crude spilled in North Dakota.
So it is time, right now, to go to Tesoro headquarters, wherever that is, and request some numbers. Like, how much oil went into that pipeline, and how much came out. What’s missing is what is in Steve Jensen’s field in Williams County. Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Health Department’s environmental health section had a very defensive letter to the editor in most of the state’s daily papers this morning—methinks he doth protest too much. In it he says “Tesoro’s report indicated that the spill did not pose any apparent danger to public safety and didn’t threaten ground water or surface water supplies. A preliminary assessment by state officials also found no threat to public health or water supplies.” Well, take a look at this picture of the spill site. I don’t know about you, but I think I see quite a bit of water in that trench in the middle of the photo. Anyway, Glatt says he’s going to do some checking. And then, probably about ten or twelve days later, he’ll share what he learned with us.
The news in the Tribune today is about record production of oil and natural gas in North Dakota. “We blew through 900,000 barrels per day in August . . . 1 billion cubic feet of gas,” North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.
Later in the story, the Tribune reported that Helms reported that we flared 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas in August. 9.4 billion. With a B. I’m an English major, and don’t do math very well, but I’ve tried to relate that to something I can understand. So I got out my MDU bill file, and found the coldest month I could find, to see how much natural gas we used to heat our house. Says we used about 30 dekatherms one month. That’s the highest I could find. Mr. Google helped me convert that to cubic feet. 30 dekatherms is about 29,000 cubic feet. That’s the most we have used in one month in our house. But that’s just the coldest month. Because Lillian keeps good records, I was able to determine that over a normal year’s time, we use about an average of 12.5 dekatherms, or 12,000 cubic feet, of natural gas per month to heat and cool our house. Of course, we are kind of stingy, and we wear sweaters in the winter and tee shirts and shorts in the summer, keeping the thermometer about 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. But still . . .
We here in North Dakota are flaring 9.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas every month. Doing the math (I had to drop a zero from each number, because my little hand-held calculator doesn’t have enough zeros to accommodate 9.4 billion, but I think I got it right), 9.4 billion cubic feet flared, divided by the average 12,000 cubic feet per month we use at our house, we are flaring enough gas to heat and cool about 780,000 houses like ours. Forever. If everyone dressed like us. Every house in North and South Dakota and another 100,000 in Minnesota.
Or, to put it another way, if we could take all the natural gas that we are going to burn at the wellhead in the next 30 days, and store it in a really big tank, and run a line from that tank to my house, I could keep my house at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer for the next 65,000 years.
That our Industrial Commission—Wayne Stenehjem, Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple—would let our production get that far ahead of our takeaway system is unconscionable. It is the most irresponsible thing our state—any state—has ever done. Not only is it horribly wasteful, but it is pumping untold amounts of pollutants into the air. It should stop right now. It is another reason why WE SHOULD STOP ISSUING DRILLING PERMITS RIGHT NOW. Do you think the Industrial Commission in 1980, composed of Art Link, Myron Just and Allen Olson, would have allowed this? Or the Industrial Commission in 1992, composed of George Sinner, Sarah Vogel and Nick Spaeth? Or any other Industrial Commission, dating back to statehood? Of course not. Those three men are an embarrassment to our state. Let the oil flow. Let the bank balance grow. Let the gas glow. Sad.
MAKING A LIST
Yesterday I wrote about Wayne Stenehjem’s secret task force and the secret meetings it’s been holding. I also sent an e-mail to Wayne’s spokesperson, Liz Brocker, asking her:
I understand either the Attorney General or the Industrial Commission has appointed a task force to provide advice on “special places” in North Dakota. Who can provide me information about that?
Here’s what she wrote back:
There’s no formal task force. Wayne has met with folks who have specialized backgrounds and ideas on oil development issues, to provide advice and guidance to him. This is not an appointment from the Industrial Commission, just one member seeking assistance from people with ideas of their own for him to weigh.
No “formal” task force. Just a task force that has held two meetings in the Attorney General’s conference room.
“Wayne has met with folks . . .” Yeah, right, he met with them at organized meetings of a group of 10 or 11 people, including other state employees, in his office. I know. I talked to some of them after Monday’s meeting. Wonder if he paid mileage? Or if the counties whose commissioners are part of the task force got stuck for the bill?
Who do they think they’re kidding? Don’t they know that most of us who aren’t lawyers can see through that “lawyer talk” that probably is technically correct, or almost so, but designed to obfuscate the reality of what is going on.
Wayne offered to meet with me to talk about it. Y’know, there was a day when we used to have a beer once in a while, or have a smoke when the Legislators had a smoking lounge behind the Senate chambers, and I enjoyed those conversations. Not any more. I’m not going to take him up on his offer. He has way more important things to do than waste time talking to a blogger. I just wish he would do them.
HALEK OPERATING FINE
Assistant Attorney General Hope Hogan has filed suit against Halek Operating in an attempt to collect a $1.5 million fine that Halek was supposed to have paid back in August. I have written about this before. Now, instead of the Industrial Commission trying to collect the money from the company that dumped 800,000 gallons of salt water (hmmm, just about the same number of gallons of oil that leaked from a pipeline about 150 miles to the north—wonder if there’s any connection?) down a well south of Dickinson, threatening the area’s ground water, a judge out in Dickinson is going to have to try to collect the money. Well, good luck with that. More on this next week.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog.")
I’m not sure how long Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem intended to keep his secret task force on “places not to put oil wells” a secret, but North Dakota is still a pretty small state, and the North Dakota Capitol is a relatively small building, and it’s pretty hard to keep anything that goes on there a secret.
Stenehjem has appointed a committee of about ten people, including three state employees and two county commissioners, to deal with the issue of “special places” in the Oil Patch, places where he and his fellow Industrial Commission members should give some special consideration as they grant drilling permits to oil companies.
I’ve written about this before. There have been applications for drilling permits beside national parks, inside wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges, near Indian sacred sites, inside state parks, and in sensitive roadless areas. Some have been granted, some have been withdrawn, but I can’t remember the Industrial Commission ever denying one. To his credit, Wayne has been nervous about all this, and has suggested that a list of “special places” be developed for Industrial Commission members to keep their eyes on.
A couple months ago, the Industrial Commission released a list of nearly 40 places that had been submitted by people who wanted those places protected. The list has shown up in print, but hasn’t been widely discussed. And there has been nothing forthcoming from the Industrial Commission about how they want to use it. Like a lot of government lists, it’s in danger of gathering dust on a shelf and never being heard from again.
Wayne wants to take it further, I guess, so he appointed his own “private task force” to look into the matter. The group had its second meeting yesterday, in the conference room at the Attorney General’s office in the State Capitol building (not a very “private” place). You didn’t read about it in the paper or hear it on the radio or see it on TV, because no one in the media knew about it. That’s the way the Attorney General wanted it. He says the meetings of the group are not subject to the state’s open meetings law. He should know. He’s the top law enforcement officer in North Dakota, and he and his predecessors have been asked hundreds of times to interpret it. Still . . .
Article XI of the North Dakota Constitution says:
Unless otherwise provided by law, all meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions, or agencies of the state or any political subdivision of the state, or organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be open to the public.
The question of who this law applies to has been asked so many times that the Attorney General has published a “North Dakota Open Meetings Manual.” On page 2 of the manual, the Attorney General answers the question “Who is subject to the open meetings law?” The answer:
“Public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions or agencies of the state, including any entity created or recognized by the Constitution of North Dakota, state statute, or executive order of the governor or any task force or working group created by the individual in charge of a state agency or institution, to exercise public authority or perform a governmental function . . .” (emphasis mine)
“’Task force or working group’ means a group of individuals who have been formally appointed and delegated to meet as a group to assist, advise, or act on behalf of the individual in charge of a state agency or institution when a majority of the members of the group are not employees of the agency or institution.” N.D.C.C. § 44-04-17.1(16).” (emphasis mine)
Okay, let’s see now, Wayne has appointed a task force whose members are mostly private citizens, not state employees, to advise him. Does that fit anywhere in that definition, from that manual, do you think?
Well, never mind that. That’s for the real North Dakota media to figure out. They and their lawyer, Jack McDonald can go there if they want to. That’s THEIR job. I’m more concerned about the substance of what Wayne is doing.
No one has told me yet exactly what this group is supposed to do, beyond identifying a list of places where Wayne and his fellow Industrial Commission members should exercise caution. Apparently the list provided earlier isn’t good enough. Perhaps it is too big. Aha, now we might be getting to the heart of things.
First, let’s look at who’s on this task force. I mentioned three state employees earlier, remember? I suppose we might expect the North Dakota Game and Fish Commissioner, the State Parks Director, and the Director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota would be a good place to start then, eh? Well, we’d be expecting wrong. Because none of them are on it, nor is any one from their agencies. The three agencies in charge of the most important public lands and cultural and natural resources in the state aren’t represented.
Instead, it has an engineer whose firm is one of the biggest players in the Oil Patch, a couple of county commissioners from the Oil Patch, a newspaper columnist and scholar who writes from time to time about the energy industry, one natural resources professional, the President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, and three lawyers, two of whom work for Stenehjem and one who’s retired but spent much of his career as an assistant attorney general. Oh, and the head of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, recognizing that much of the oil industry development is going on in what used to be, or still is, Indian Country. These are the people who are going to compile a list of places chosen for special consideration when drilling permits are requested.
Task force members I talked to today told me that Wayne has assured all of them that they are not in violation of the Open Meetings Law, and they were satisfied with that, including the county commissioners, who are generally very, very careful about that law. They weren’t very clear about what the outcome of all this is going to be though.
What’s most disappointing, I learned, is that they have already been presented a list that is much shorter than the one the Industrial Commission released earlier, and pretty much been told to stick to that list. In my opinion, the earlier list was still too short.
I’m going to give the Attorney General some credit here for taking the lead on this whole issue of “special places.” But his suggestion is starting to ring hollow. It was made way back in May, and now, five months later, it appears a new effort is just getting started, and a shallow effort at that. And this new list is being developed by a group which does not include anyone from the state agencies most concerned with what is going on. I wonder how those agency heads feel about that. Or if they even knew about it before they read this (actually, they didn’t—I called to find out—but they’re scrambling right now to see what is going on).
There is already a list. The State Historical Society, for example, submitted sites to be included. That list has been reviewed by, but not adopted by, the Commission which issues all the drilling permits. In the absence of any formal structure to carefully check on where all these new wells are going to be, the Commission is issuing hundreds of drilling permits every month. It would be so easy to take the list compiled earlier, update it to include all the state and federal wildlife areas, have the three state agency heads review it, adopt it, and then develop a database of legal descriptions of all those places and run the drilling permit requests, all of which have legal descriptions, against that list and give special consideration—at least discuss—those which make a computer match. And, as I suggested last month, STOP ISSUING DRILLING PERMITS UNTIL THAT IS DONE. At least then we would know when places we are all concerned about are going to get an oil well. But you know what? I’m really convinced these people just don’t give a shit about what is going on. It’s all about money.
Anyway, it would be good for the Attorney General to do his work in the light of day. I’m going to find out when the next meeting is. I’m going to go. I hope some news media folks will join me. And also people who might be concerned about what’s going to be on this list, and what’s going to happen when it is completed. I’ll let you know when I find out the date.
Written by Chet
It was funny, yesterday (October 10th), when North Dakota Public Radio broke in on their pre-recorded program to report "Breaking News" that another massive oil pipeline spill had occured in Northwestern North Dakota. Why was it funny? Because the spill was discovered on September 29th. Because the oil company responsible for the spill -- Tesoro -- and North Dakota's corrupt Oil & Gas officials have been quietly, secretly trying to deal with it. They "initially burned oil from the surface but have since dug ditches and recovery wells." They also have vacuum oil recovery trucks on the scene, sucking the oil from the ditches and wells. All this went on for 10 days without the public ever being made aware of the spill, at all.
Here's a snippet from one of the newspapers that is most responsible for bringing us the corrupt government that does this sort of thing:
Farmer Steve Jensen says he smelled the crude for days before the tires on his combines were coated in it. At the apparent break in the Tesoro Corp.'s underground pipeline, the oil was "spewing and bubbling 6 inches high," he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
What Jensen had found on Sept. 29 turned out it was one of the largest spills recorded in the state. At 20,600 barrels it was four times the size of a pipeline rupture in late March that forced the evacuation of more than 20 homes in Arkansas.
But it was 12 days after Jensen reported the spill before state officials told the public what had happened, raising questions about how North Dakota, which is in the midst of an oil boom, reports such incidents.
Other stories have some quotes from a state environmental geologist named "Kris Roberts." Here's some of what Roberts has told reporters:
Roberts said state and federal regulators are monitoring the cleanup, and Tesoro estimated it would cost $4 million.
A natural layer of clay more than 40 feet thick underlies the spill site and has "held the oil up" so that it does not spread to underground water sources, Roberts said.
"It is completely contained and under control," Roberts said Thursday. "They got very lucky."
Now, I don't know Roberts. I also don't know if Roberts, or anybody else in North Dakota's state government, can be trusted when it comes to providing truthful information about oil spills.
Remember our story on the understated impact of the oil rig blow-out at Van Hook (near New Town)? (Click here to read it.) In that NorthDecoder exclusive, we quoted excerpts from news stories where Roberts provided misleading information to the "journalists" writing those stories. Roberts, for example, told Amy Dalrymple, of the Fargo Forum papers, that the oil mist drifted more than 2,000 feet to the southwest. Well that's sort of true. 4,100 feet is "more than 2,000 feet." It's a lot more. Double. And then some. So it seems misleading to say "more than 2,000 feet."
In a story by Eloise Ogden of the Minot Daily News, Ogden says "State officials said the wind was blowing the mist away from the lake. Roberts said they were ready to put booms on the lake if needed."
Okay... some things about that. Who were the "state officials" who said the wind was blowing the mist away from the lake? Was Roberts one of them? If so, he was lying. We later learned (and reported here, first) that the wind was blowing the mist over and onto the lake. And... It was December. Lake Sakakawea was frozen. Why would they put booms on a frozen lake? It doesn't make any sense. The initial reports from state officials were all lies. Then, when the truth came out about the significance of the spill, it only got covered here on NorthDecoder, out of state and in the Garrison-based newspapers. Nobody in the media ever did a story focused on the lies and half-truths told by state officials at the time of the original blow-out.
Why? Next time you look through your local paper, count the completely pointless adds from oil companies. Tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue is why the local news isn't covering this stuff.
Maybe Roberts is a good person. Maybe Roberts was misquoted in the Van Hook stories. These guys all work for North Dakota's corrupt governor, attorney general and ag commissioner, so I don't trust any of them. And they only make themselves seem more and more corrupt when they cover this stuff up for 12 days. Again.
We still deserve better.
Written by Jim Fuglie
(Cross-posted, with permission, from The Prairie Blog.)
Some things to catch up on from earlier reports on goings-on in the oil patch:
NATHAN GARBER AND HALEK OPERATING
We reported a couple weeks ago on the case of Nathan Garber, the fellow who dumped 800,000 gallons of contaminated water down a well shaft out by Dickinson. The technical charge against him was “violation of the rules and regulations of the North Dakota Industrial Commission,” a Class C Felony, punishable by five years in prison or a $5,000 fine, or both. Well, his hearing was last Monday. Case closed. Pleaded guilty. Now, I am tempted to have a little contest here, and have people guess how many years he will spend in prison, and how much he will pay. I’m pretty sure no one knows the answer except Garber, his lawyer, the Attorney General (actually his assistant), the judge and me. Because no one in North Dakota’s vaunted news media has bothered to report what happens to a man who dumps 800,000 gallons of contaminated water down an abandoned well. I only know because I made enough phone calls that someone finally had to tell me. Actually, I only found out this morning. I probably could have found out earlier, but duck season opened this week and I’ve been a little busy. Priorities
But I’m going out to the Badlands for the weekend, so I’m not going to be around to judge a contest, so I’m just going to tell you. Garber, who was working the well under the auspices of a company called Halek Operating, the company recently fined $1.5 million by the Industrial Commission for the same crime (more about that in a minute) actually submitted an Alford plea, which as I read about them all the time in the paper means he is not actually admitting guilt but concedes that the assistant attorney general probably has enough evidence to convict him (about 800,000 gallons worth), so he’s going to stand up and take his punishment fair and square, like a man. And that punishment is:
A two-year suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine.
He’s gone back home to Montana where he will be on unsupervised probation for the length of his suspended term—two years. Then he’s free to go, assuming he has written a check for $2,500 plus court and investigation fees, probably another grand or so. And a nice fat check to his lawyer, who deserves a nice fat check for his work convincing Wayne Stenehjem that dumping 800,000 gallons of contaminated water down an abandoned well, threatening Dickinson’s drinking water source, really isn’t such a big deal.
Well, it was considered a big deal at one point in time, even by Lynn Helms, the oil industry’s top cop and head cheerleader in North Dakota. Helms said that if the contaminated water reached the groundwater supply, it would “take years to clean up, if it even could be cleaned up.” The Dickinson Press reported in August: “The violations admitted by Halek are among the most egregious violations ever pursued by the commission,” Administrative Law Judge Allen Hoberg wrote in findings earlier this year. The groundwater in the area hasn’t been contaminated, but after evaluating evidence in the case, Hoberg found there is a “real future risk of contamination.”
I assume the North Dakota Health Department will monitor this site for years to make sure Dickinson’s drinking water isn’t contaminated. If I lived in Dickinson, or anywhere near there, I’d sure hope so, anyway.
Meanwhile, after all the headlines about how the Governor and the Attorney General and the Agriculture Commissioner and the Industrial Commission are really cracking down on these bad guys, the $1.5 million fine levied against the company, Halek, goes unpaid. I asked the Attorney General’s office this week if they are moving to collect that. Haven’t heard back yet. But here’s a little hint of what’s to come. A lawyer friend of mine says they probably aren’t going to get anything but an abandoned well, because there ain’t no $1.5 million in the bank to pay that. An abandoned well full of contaminated water which, if it leaks, is going to have to be cleaned up by the well’s new owner, I suppose.
And that, folks, is how justice is served in North Dakota’s oil patch. If there’s any news about the payment, or non-payment, of the fine, you’ll probably read it here first. And Nathan Garber will never show his face in Dickinson again. He’s nervous about the water.
HAROLD HAMM’S NEW PARTNER
We also reported a couple weeks ago about the case of the mineral lease auction of 40 acres up in the Lewis and Clark Game Management Area. This was the online auction to complete the spacing unit, the rest of which was owned by Harold Hamm, and where Hamm is ready to drill some wells. Well, the auction came and went and I didn’t report the results, because I was in the Bad Lands for a few days, and then out canoeing in Montana all last week, and then duck season, and, well, you know, I was just busy. Retirement is hard when you’re healthy enough to enjoy it.
Well, anyway, the minerals were leased for five years to a company called Beall Investments LP, for $11,610 an acre, a total of $474,954.25. A nice little chunk of change for the state of North Dakota, which will turn into a nice big chunk of change for Mr. Beall, who’s betting on a sure thing. Actually, my best guess is that Mr. Beall, who is from Texas and has close ties to the University of Oklahoma, as does his friend Harold Hamm, probably just had someone in his company fronting for old Harold, and Harold has all of it now—no partners. Because that’s how things work in the North Dakota Oil Patch.
SOME GOOD NEWS—SORT OF
Last Spring we were following a story about XTO energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, wanting to drill an oil well at the gate of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, now owned by the National Park Service. We raised enough hell to scare them off, but we knew they would come back, because they’ve got a bunch of money tied up in a mineral lease that they don’t want to lose. Well, XTO regrouped and this week they were back in front of the North Dakota Industrial Commission with a new plan. They’ve put together a new spacing unit and it looks like they will move the well two miles west. It won’t be at the Elkhorn any more, but now it will be at the turnoff from the main road onto the trail that goes down toward the Little Missouri River and the Elkhorn, and the nearby Forest Service campground at the Maah Daah Hey trailhead. So if you’re going to the Elkhorn in the next year or so, or going camping at the Forest Service Campground, or hiking the Maah Daah Hey Trail, be darned careful. There’s going to be a lot of truck traffic there for a while.
Written by Chet
And Things Are Getting Ugly on Congressman Cramer's Own Facebook Wall
[FACT CHECK REQUEST: See below.]
On Friday of last week, North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer's constituent, Kevin R. Tengesdal, posted some important Bible passages on Cramer's Facebook wall. The passages related to the basic Christian values of providing for the poor, elderly, orphans, etc. You know; stuff Jesus liked to do. Cramer responded, in essence, by saying he thinks everyone who receives food assistance (SNAP or "food stamps") is lazy and should starve. Here's the exchange (again):
After NorthDecoder broadcast Cramer's exchange with his constituent to a larger audience, the story of the exchange went viral. We got hit with a massive amount of web traffic from all over. I'm quite glad I stopped hosting NorthDecoder on a box in my basement a couple years ago because my little web server and its gerbils couldn't have handled all the traffic. Here's a list of some of the websites that picked up the story:
Talking Points Memo
Digby's Blog (Hullabaloo)
A Wee Blether (Adam J. Copeland)
One News Page
The Last of the Millenniums
The Daily Banter
Alan Colmes' Liberaland
The Daily Hurricane
There are many, many others who have written about this. That's just a sample. I also got blasted with traffic that came from people's posts (that I can't see) on their own Facebook walls.
Suffice it to say that based upon the amount of traffic NorthDecoder.com has gotten since Friday of last week, this story is a nationally-significant story that has gone amazingly viral. When a story shows up on RawStory and Fox News and Talking Points Memo and the Political Wire, it's a big deal.
But have you heard anything about it in ANY North Dakota news? I haven't. Someone told me a question was asked of Cramer on KFGO (Fargo) yesterday morning, but I wasn't able to listen. I don't know what the question was, or what the answer was (though I heard Cramer tried to deflect the issue, entirely.)
Here's what I know. You can tell a lot about a member of Congress by looking at what's happening on the Congressperson's Facebook wall. Cramer's Facebook wall is U.G.L.Y. right now. It's gotten so viral and so bad for Cramer now, Cramer has completely deleted his exchange with Mr. Tengesdal from his Facebook wall. It has vanished from Cramer's Facebook wall, entirely. Gone. Mr. Tengesdal's Bible passages and Cramer's response to those Bible passages apparently aren't worthy of being saved. So they're gone. Too bad for Cramer that everybody on the internet has already seen the screen grab (above) as it's been shared by Fox News, Talking Points Memo, and countless other websites.
For what it's worth, here's a link to where Cramer's exchange with his constituent used to be: LINK
Cramer's message to his constituent: "You're not worthy."
Cramer's message to the Bible passages quoted by his constituent: "You're not worthy."
That's amazing, but here's what's REALLY amazing about this: Cramer is getting the crap beat out of him by commenters on Cramer's own Facebook wall. You really should go check this out. I'll provide a link, but I'm also fairly confident that Cramer will show his stripes and delete all those comments, too. So I'm also going to provide you with a graphic. Going to his Facebook page -- for now -- is a better way to read them, but I'll keep it here so it's still publically available after Cramer deletes all his constituent's unworthy comments.
Here's a link to his Wall: LINK
Below you'll find what Kevin Cramer's Facebook wall looks like right now. You should read through some or all of it. It's pretty amazing. Consider going to the link and adding your own voice.
Kevin Cramer's Facebook Wall by northdecoder
FACT CHECK REQUEST:
Okay, so someone whose email address looks like it might be the constituent's email address posted a comment under an earlier blog post here. I didn't see the comment until someone sent me a note about it a little bit ago. The comment comes from someone identifying him/herself as "krten1966" and says, "I had removed the initial posting from Cramer's wall as my 'Notifications' button was going almost non-stop on my own Facebook wall." Now, I can't tell who this comment came from, so I don't know if it's the constituent. If it is, then you can just ignore the stuff, above, about Cramer deleting the original exchange. Regardless, the activity on Cramer's Facebook wall is still freaking amazing. Go check that out.