Buried deep in a recent story about five more hazardous materials spills near my Williston, N.D., hometown was the surprising news about the North Dakota Industrial Commission's penalty on an earlier spill - a 19,740 gallon spill (470 barrels) was reported by a landowner, not the oil company as required. Rather than the proposed fine of $12,600, the state settled the case for a mere $3,150 fine plus $144 in investigative costs.

The state is allowed to penalize companies $12,500 per day, but opted to reward the company. According to news sources, an investigator traveled the 170 miles from Bismarck to northwest of Maxbass in Bottineau County. Using the state's mileage reimbursement rate, just the mileage cost of that single trip was $200, never mind the cost of soil samples, reports, staff time, etc.

Bottom line, the penalty does not fit the crime. Five more unreported spills in Williams County no doubt will equal similar results. In Bottineau County, the fine was equivalent to a mere 51 barrels or just 10 percent of what contaminated the ground. Shame on the North Dakota Industrial Commission for putting the financial health of oil companies ahead of those of the landowners and future generations.

Gov. Burgum, Attorney General Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring should all know better and do better for the people of North Dakota and those of us paying their salaries.

Kalil lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn.