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Hazardous spill website not a good idea alone

The Dickinson Press, Dickinson, N.D.

Now that the North Dakota Department of Health has admitted there were — pick a number — 200, 300 or more oil spills that went unreported to the public, the department and its chief, Dave Glatt, have hatched a plan to keep the public informed.

Glatt told members of the Legislature’s Energy Transmission and Development Committee that there is a state rule saying all spills have to be reported in a timely manner, which they interpret to be within 24 hours of when the event is discovered.

Never mind the Tioga spill went unreported to the public for at least a week.

On the heels of that, the agency is developing a new website aimed at alerting the public to any spill that could potentially pose a danger. It would include oil and gas activities, agricultural spills and industrial spills.

Glatt said decision-makers in the Department of Health were considering creating an informational website even before the Tioga spill, though he added the Tioga incident accelerated the timeline.

Glatt said: “These (hazardous) leaks have always been public record, but they just haven’t been on a webpage. We’ve been thinking about doing something like this simply because we have been getting so many (Freedom of Information Act) requests for spill information. Once this is online, people can search to their heart’s content about spills.”

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who chairs the Energy Development and Transmission Committee, said the vast majority of hazardous incidents are much smaller than the Tioga spill and thinks the website is a good idea.

North Dakota Democrats have jumped at the opportunity to blame the party in charge as Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, a member of the energy committee, told the Associated Press in a recent interview that she and other state Democrats planned to seek bipartisan legislation to require regulators to publicly report all oil spills and other hazardous leaks.

The agency that let 200 to 300 oil spills go unannounced in violation of the current law is going to build and be responsible for monitoring a website to list all future spills? The Democrats are going to seek a law that already exists to require regulators publicly report all spills and hazardous leaks?

Did we miss the part about accountability for the 200 to 300 oil spills the public didn’t know about?

Why should we think the Department of Health will now do a better job posting spills on this website, even if they do, and require daily public monitoring?

Creating a website might be a good idea to Wardner, but any oil spill should require a press release and legal report published in the newspaper of record in the county where the spill occurred.

City, counties and school districts would love to see similar websites replace the legal notices they are currently required to publish in the newspaper of record.

Allowing the North Dakota Department of Health get away with only this website does little, if anything, to protect public safety and our right to know.