BISMARCK – The North Dakota Industrial Commission called Wednesday for better monitoring of pipelines and higher standards for those that cross major bodies of water as crews continue cleaning up two major pipeline spills that affected the state’s waterways.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Industrial Commission chairman, also said the state should speed up research on new technology that could prevent pipeline leaks.
A pipeline rupture spilled nearly 3 million gallons of brine near Blacktail Creek north of Williston this month, also affecting the Little Muddy and Missouri rivers. In eastern Montana, a pipeline leaked oil into the Yellowstone River, affecting the water supply for the town of Glendive, Mont., and threatening drinking water in downstream communities, including Williston, N.D.
“I think everybody is really concerned about the last couple of spills. And the saltwater line in particular,” Dalrymple said. “We are in the process of developing a comprehensive set of rules regarding that type of line, but we maybe want to accelerate a couple of pieces of that.”
The Industrial Commission now has oversight over about 20,000 miles of small, gathering pipelines, such as the 4-inch saltwater line in the Williston spill, and other pipelines that gather oil, natural gas and other liquids. The commission implemented new rules last year in response to a bill approved by legislators two years ago.
The Industrial Commission now has funding for three pipeline inspectors who would monitor such gathering lines, but oversight of the pipelines has been minimal because there have not been qualified applicants for the jobs.
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said the legislative action years ago was a first baby step, but significantly more needs to be done.
Senate Bill 2374, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson, would require more safeguards for gathering pipelines installed after June, 30, 2017, specifically flow meters, automatic shutoff valves, and pressure cutoff switches. The bill also would require that all pipelines be permitted and bonded.
Helms said the bill moves the discussion in the right direction, but he was concerned about requiring specific safeguards in the law when better technology may be available.
“What I don’t want the legislation to do is lock us into 20th century technology,” Helms said.
The saltwater line that leaked had the safeguards being proposed in the bill, Helms said.
He also said requiring a permit for all small pipelines does not make sense to him and would require his office to add staff, but requiring permits for pipelines that cross bodies of water or are near water “would be absolutely appropriate.”
“Whether it be the Yellowstone River or a sizable creek, that’s when we’re vulnerable to the impacts of a spill. Most vulnerable,” Dalrymple said. “In the case of water supply, I think we really need to talk about an even stronger standard in those locations.”
After the spill in the Yellowstone River, water had to be trucked in for residents of Glendive until it was deemed safe.
Dalrymple said the Williston saltwater spill, which involved a pipeline that was only 6 months old, raises questions for him about materials that are used for pipelines. He said inquiries into the materials ought to be accelerated as well.
The pipeline that ruptured is constructed of a composite material called Fiberspar LinePipe.
“The material from this latest spill has been used all around the country but it may be a problem in our climate,” Helms said. “We just don’t know. The investigation’s not complete.”
Helms said it may be a good idea to work with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota to build sections of pipe to test materials and study technologies.
Dalrymple also said the bill is a good start, but the language about technology may need to be more general.
“We’ve all heard about some new things that are just appearing, sonar and other methods of (leak) detection. We need to be on top of those opportunities,” Dalrymple said.