ONEOK

Whistleblower Reveals Flawed Construction at North Dakota Gas Plants Where Massive Spill Was Downplayed

Read time: 11 mins
Paul Lehto

Two North Dakota gas processing plants in the heart of the Bakken oil fields have shown signs of an eroded safety culture and startling construction problems, according to Paul Lehto, a 54-year-old former gas plant operator who has come out as a whistleblower. He described worrisome conditions at the Lonesome Creek plant, in Alexander, and the Garden Creek plant, in Watford City, where DeSmog recently revealed one of the largest oil and gas industry spills in U.S. history had occurred. Both plants process natural gas brought via pipeline from Bakken wells and are run by the Oklahoma-based oil and gas service company, ONEOK Partners.

The safety culture is embarrassing,” said Lehto, who has described to DeSmog the discovery of dozens of loose bolts along critical sections of piping, and other improperly set equipment, deficiencies he attributes to the frenzied rush of the oil boom that has dominated the state’s landscape and economy. “North Dakota is basically a Petrostate,” said Lehto, who worked at the two plants between 2015 and 2016. “There is regulatory capture, and sure that happens in other areas, but nowhere is it more extreme than in North Dakota.”

Did North Dakota Regulators Hide an Oil and Gas Industry Spill Larger Than Exxon Valdez?

Read time: 15 mins
Exxon Valdez

In July 2015 workers at the Garden Creek I Gas Processing Plant, in Watford City, North Dakota, noticed a leak in a pipeline and reported a spill to the North Dakota Department of Health that remains officially listed as 10 gallons, the size of two bottled water delivery jugs.

But a whistle-blower has revealed to DeSmog the incident is actually on par with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, which released roughly 11 million gallons of thick crude.

Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests

Read time: 12 mins
A Lakota man locked himself to construction equipment building the Dakota Access pipeline

On the heels of Iowa and Ohio, Wyoming has become the third state to introduce a bill criminalizing the type of activities undertaken by past oil and gas pipeline protesters. 

One of the Wyoming bill's co-sponsors even says it was inspired by the protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access pipeline, and a sheriff involved in policing those protests testified in support of the bill at a recent hearing. Wyoming's bill is essentially a copy-paste version of template legislation produced by the conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Judges Nixing Keystone XL South Cases Had Tar Sands-Related Oil Investments

Read time: 7 mins

On August 4, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit shot down the Sierra Club's petition for rehearing motion for the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The decision effectively writes the final chapter of a years-long legal battle in federal courts. 

But one of the three judges who made the ruling, Bobby Ray Baldock — a Ronald Reagan nominee — has tens of thousands of dollars invested in royalties for oil companies with a major stake in tar sands production in Alberta.  And his fellow Reagan nominee in the Western District of Oklahoma predecessor case, David Russell, also has skin in the oil investments game.  

The disclosures raise questions concerning legal objectivity, or potential lack thereof, for the Judges. They also raise questions about whether these Judges — privy to sensitive and often confidential legal details about oil companies involved in lawsuits in a Court located in the heart and soul of oil country — overstepped ethical bounds. 

These findings from a DeSmog investigation precede President Barack Obama's expected imminent decision on the northern, border-crossing leg of Keystone XL.

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