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A Bubbling Crude


On this date in 2013, Steve Jensen discovered America's worst on-land oil spill. It was in his wheat field near Tioga, North Dakota. Crude oil poured out of the ground, emptying over 20,000 barrels onto seven acres of the Jensens’ 1,800-acre farm.

The spill's source was a leaking underground pipeline. Tesoro guessed that the cause was a lightning strike. Eleven days after Jensen’s discovery, the state notified the public about the spill. It posed no threat to groundwater or nearby lakes and streams, but it was estimated that the clean-up of over 860 thousand gallons of oil would take up to 18 months.

Contamination from the spill spread as deep as 30 to 50 feet. Eight acres of the wheat field were cordoned off – the size of over seven football fields. Cleaning the earth required a thermal desorption unit, which removed hydrocarbons from the soil.

Assembled in May 2014, the 130-ton, 50-foot tall machine could process over 1,000 tons of contaminated soil a day. A 16-member crew began working 24/7. As the project manager told the Bismarck Tribune, they’d even work through winter at “full speed ahead.”

A year and a half after the spill, the North Dakota Health Department estimated that there was still more than two years to go on the cleanup, and the initial $4 million cost estimate had grown to $20 million.

One good bit of news … Tesoro was able to recover several thousand barrels of oil. The company even promised the Jensons the the honor of levering the first scoop of clean soil back into their field as the project neared completion.

Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura


Bryan, K. J. (2014, Oct. 4). Unusual alliance on oil spill cleanup near Tioga. The Bismarck Tribune. Retrieved from:

"http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/unusual-alliance-on-oil-spill-cleanup-near-tioga/article_75164d8e-4b8f-11e4-bf7b-93e46e70604c.html" http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/unusual-alliance-on-oil-spill-cleanup-near-tioga/article_75164d8e-4b8f-11e4-bf7b-93e46e70604c.html

MacPherson, J. (2014, Oct. 20). 1 year later: Cleanup still going 24/7 on 20,000-barrel oil spill in North Dakota field. Star-Tribune. Retrieved from: "http://m.startribune.com/nation/279825072.html" http://m.startribune.com/nation/279825072.html

"http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/05/25/cleanup-of-oil-spill-at-nd-farm-to-take-2-more-years/" http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/05/25/cleanup-of-oil-spill-at-nd-farm-to-take-2-more-years/