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EDITORIAL: Reject oil spill free pass in ND

North Dakota landowners who oppose an attempt to weaken the state's oil spill reporting requirements know of what they speak. They are on the front lines daily dealing with spills of oil and other toxic drilling liquids that pollute waterways and...

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North Dakota landowners who oppose an attempt to weaken the state's oil spill reporting requirements know of what they speak. They are on the front lines daily dealing with spills of oil and other toxic drilling liquids that pollute waterways and render farmland and pastures useless for years. The landowners are on the right side of the debate. Lawmakers would be wise to listen.

Legislation advanced by Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, one of the oil industry's reliable handmaidens (among many in the Legislature), would give companies a pass on reporting spills of fewer than 420 gallons that were contained on oil well sites or saltwater disposal wells. Sounds fair, but in practice could be an ever-multiplying loophole. The problems are obvious.

For example, there would be no way of knowing how many under 420-gallon spills were occurring - either on or off containment sites - without a reporting mandate. And if spills are detected, it's reasonable to assume there will be a curious increase in the number of 419-gallon spills, which would not be reported.

In the current regulatory climate, it's common for landowners and others, not the offending companies, to discover and report oil and fluid leaks and spills. Weaker reporting regulations to make life easier for state inspectors and company spillers make no sense. In light of the cumulative damaging effects of toxic spills on water and land, there is no such thing as a "small" spill. Given the industry's record (not all companies, of course) of violating existing reporting and cleanup regulations, less-stringent oversight is an invitation to continue bad behavior.

Streyle also justifies his flawed legislation because, he says, it would bring state law in line with federal oil spill regulations. That's a real head-turner. It's a rare day when a North Dakota legislator thinks the feds do things better than the state. It would be a better day if Streyle and supporters of weakening spill regulation listened to landowners, who know how damaging toxic spills can be. It would be a better day if legislators put the long-term condition of land and water ahead of the fickle and fleeting gains of a damaging one-time harvest of oil.

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Editor's note: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Agweek are owned by Forum Communications Co.

Related Topics: POLICY
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