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Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

A Texas-based oil company discovered a leak in one of its pipelines in North Dakota after a local farmer reported it to ND officials on Sept. 29, but the oil company did not spill this news until 11 days after discovering the pipeline rupture that released an estimated more-than 20,000 barrels of crude oil.

State officials initially reported a 750-barrel spill that the company in question, Tesoro Logistics LP, did not publicize because of the smaller initial estimate and what it considered to be a lack of environmental damage.

Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the North Dakota Health Department, was quoted in a New York Times article stating that Tesoro officials reported the spill to the state within 24 hours of first discovery and that the state does not have to release information of all oil spills publicly.

While Tesoro responded to the spill promptly, the cleanup process could take a couple of years and will cost an estimated $4 million. The local wheat farmer, Steve Jensen, who notified the State Department of Health of the oil spill after seeing crude oil coating the wheels of his combine, will also receive compensation for damages to his field that could keep his wheat crops out for a couple of years.  He and Tesoro are negotiating a settlement in regards to this matter.

The spill seems to have originated from a hole — about a quarter-inch in diameter — in a segment of the 20-year-old pipeline originally built by BP in 1993 but purchased by Tesoro in 2001, according to Reuters. The pipeline runs 35 miles within the state.

Many people have criticized Tesoro for not detecting the spill of about 20,600 gallons over 7.3 acres, or the equivalent of seven football fields according to the NYT, and the spill comes during an oil boom for the state following its 1951 discovery of oil. This spill surely will not help mitigate those concerned about the much larger Keystone XL pipeline expansion that will cross international borders and include 1,700 new miles of pipeline if approved. The Keystone Pipeline did not see its day in Congress during the debt-ceiling debates, and a decision on its expansion will likely not come until 2014.

TransCanada, the company heading the Keystone project, Tesoro Corp. and other pipeline owners cannot afford to slack on detecting leaks under the current political climate. These companies must employ vigilance and preemptive measures to mitigate environmental concerns and to protect landowners like Jensen whose income depends on the land surrounding oil pipelines.

Coauthored by Justin Hodge and Ayla Syed.

Note: Tesoro Logistics LP is a partnership formed by Tesoro Corp. 

To read more about the spill, please click here.