Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

I received the following question on my Facebook page:

Where is the government’s emergency plan for an oil spill on Lake Sakakawea?

Bob Valeu

Bismarck

Thanks for the question! I contacted the state Health Department and Department of Emergency Services. Cecily Fong provided an answer for both agencies:

“In general, when responding to a significant unauthorized release of a contaminant to the environment, the state can set into motion a multi-agency action coordinated by the Division of Emergency Services, with participation from several state agencies. These actions are initiated to provide a coordinated government response designed to protect public and environmental health.

“In cases where a responsible party is identified, state law requires timely reporting of the release, containment, and remediation of existing or potential public or environmental health impacts by the responsible party.

“Due to increased oil exploration activities in the west, several state agencies are currently evaluating the current level of response capacities, as well as available resources and response challenges that may be associated with an oil spill into Lake Sakakawea.

“Part of this evaluation will include several tabletop exercises, which simulate a release to Lake Sakakawea and allows the various agencies to evaluate the availability and deployment of the federal, state, local and private response resources.

“It will also let the state determine if there are areas that need to be improved. The state has also partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to provide critical training to state staff on surface water spill response and contaminant remediation. Other tribal, federal and private resources are also evaluating the current level of response readiness and developing response capabilities to address a catastrophic release to land near or into Lake Sakakawea.

“It is the intention of the state to partner with these resources to provide for a coordinated response action in the event of a significant contaminant release.

“The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services is responsible for maintaining the state emergency operations plans, which established the parameters for a systematic, coordinated approach to prepare, respond and recover from emergencies or disasters occurring within the state.

“While the plan outlines the policies and procedures for a coordinated state response, each agency is expected to keep its own standard operating procedures. The Hazardous Materials Annex of the state plan outlines agency responsibilities for responding to a hazmat incident in North Dakota.

“Lead agencies include: the North Dakota Department of Health, North Dakota fire marshal and North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

“Support agencies include: Department of Agriculture, Game and Fish Department, Division of State Radio, Highway Patrol, National Guard, Oil and Gas Division, Parks and Recreation Department, Public Service Commission and Department of Transportation.

“In addition, we have a hazmat specific checklist for our duty officer to follow to ensure appropriate notifications are made and situational information is obtained when they receive the initial report of a hazmat spill/release.

“The other piece to a hazmat response is the actual company responsible. They have responsibilities for response and clean up as well.”

Last year, several companies decided to create a partnership called Sakakawea Area Spill Response LLC. I talked to Bob Dundas, who is chairman of the group and works for Bridger Pipeline based in Casper, Wyo.

He said discussions began over a year ago with oil and pipeline companies about the importance of being prepared in case there’s a release that enters water or threatens to.

The companies all have an obligation under several regulatory programs to be prepared to respond to an oil spill, he said. However, they thought it made sense to also have a consortium to pool resources for additional equipment and training, Dundas said.

“This is sort of an additional resource that would be available to member companies in addition to whatever they’re doing on their own,” he said.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

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