News source KCET.org has dubbed North Dakota the “Oil Spill State” due to the extremely high number of oil spills that have soaked the grounds of the state over the years.
The state’s Department of Health Environmental Incidents Reports logged 745 oil spills in just one year, ending May 1, 2017. That’s an average of one oil spill every 11 hours, 45 minutes. In some cases, such as the tank overflow on May 18, 2016, in Bowman County, the spill was as large as 400 barrels, or 16,800 gallons of crude oil as well as 2,400 barrels of brine that flowed into the soil. The oil spread stopped just half a mile from the nearest residence, whose occupants relied on a well for their water.
One of the largest spills happened in December from a six-inch pipeline, which a farmer discovered had been flowing into the Ash Coulee Creek, a tributary of the Little Missouri River. It was later determined that the leak had continued unchecked for five days. An estimated 12,615 barrels had been spilled by the time the leak was stopped, and the cleanup is still ongoing. Tests of Ash Coulee Creek water has confirmed elevated levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen. Six miles of the creek is now contaminated.
The largest oil spill in North Dakota’s history, however, was discovered on September 29, 2013, in a wheat field in Mountrail County. The culprit was a ruptured pipeline that dumped an upwards of 20,600 barrels into the ground. Three years later, the cleanup still continues, with crews digging down as deep as 50 feet to eradicate the contamination.
Soil and groundwater oil contamination is a serious issue considering the harmful effects of benzene on the human body. The most common pathway of benzene exposure is by inhalation, but the chemical can easily be absorbed through the skin. Benzene exposure has been linked to life-threatening illnesses such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), and lymphomas.