WILLISTON, N.D. – The company responsible for the largest saltwater pipeline spill in North Dakota’s history answered questions Wednesday about lessons learned as it proposes to build new crude oil pipelines in the state.
Meadowlark Midstream and Epping Transmission Co., both subsidiaries of Summit Midstream, presented to the North Dakota Public Service Commission plans for a 14-mile transmission pipeline in Williams County.
The proposed project, which would convert an existing 10-mile gathering line and add an additional four miles of new pipeline, would transport crude oil from the Epping Station to the Little Muddy Creek Station, which is about 10 miles northwest of Epping.
Zack Pelham, an attorney representing the PSC, asked what the company learned from the pipeline rupture discovered Jan. 6 north of Williston. The incident, which remains under investigation, spilled nearly 3 million gallons of produced water and contaminated nearby Blacktail Creek, the Little Muddy River and the Missouri River.
John Millar, who testified at the hearing for Meadowlark Midstream, said the proposed crude oil pipeline has a lower “risk profile” than the produced water pipeline that ruptured.
The oil pipeline would be made of steel, much stronger than the composite material called FiberSpar LinePipe the produced water pipeline was made of, Millar said.
The pipeline also would have safety systems, including shut-down valves and pressure and flow sensors that would be monitored 24/7 by a control center in Texas, he said. In addition, the pipeline would be monitored twice a month by air patrol and every week by ground patrol, Millar said.
“I think right-of-way patrolling is something we’ve learned to do probably better,” Millar said. “We’re still trying to figure out why with the patrols we did have in place we didn’t see this spill. We think that’s going to be a more prominent part of our surveillance.”
The company also is making improvements to how pipelines are monitored from the control center, Millar said. The crude oil transmission pipeline would have fewer inlets than the saltwater gathering system, making it easier to monitor for imbalances, he said.
The PSC does not regulate gathering pipelines, including produced water pipelines, but the January spill will factor into the commission’s deliberations to ensure that the company is working to prevent future leaks, Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said.
“I felt pretty comfortable with the responses that the company offered today,” Fedorchak said after the meeting. “We will do our best to make sure the company has the right plans in place and has changed their procedures to avoid future accidents.”
No members of the public testified at the hearing. Millar said the company has obtained all the necessary right-of-way agreements for the project and he’s not aware of concerns from landowners.
The company requested a 55,000-barrel storage facility as part of the project but Williams County denied the zoning permit.
Administrative law judge Wade Mann presided over the hearing because of scheduling conflicts the three-member commission had this month with the legislative session. Mann will issue a recommendation and the commission will accept, reject or modify the application, a process Fedorchak estimates will be complete in 30 days.
Meadowlark Midstream also is proposing a 46-mile crude oil transmission line in Divide and Burke counties in northwest North Dakota. That hearing, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 30 at the community center in Crosby, is expected to attract public input, Fedorchak said. All three members of the commission plan to attend, she said.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission and the North Dakota Department of Health are investigating the brine spill discovered Jan. 6. Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms has said preliminary information indicates that the pipeline was leaking for more than 12 days when the rupture was discovered, but the investigation is ongoing.