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PSC approves pipeline for company responsible for Yellowstone spill

BISMARCK - The company responsible for an oil spill in the Yellowstone River this year received permission from state regulators Wednesday to build a new crude oil pipeline in southwest North Dakota.

BISMARCK - The company responsible for an oil spill in the Yellowstone River this year received permission from state regulators Wednesday to build a new crude oil pipeline in southwest North Dakota.

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak said the three-member panel had a lengthy discussion with Bridger Pipeline LLC about the Jan. 17 pipeline rupture that belched an estimated 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and temporarily contaminated the drinking water in Glendive, Mont.

"We had a really thorough discussion about how they plan to operate this and monitor it and the latest and greatest technology they'll be using, the newest pipe materials and monitoring systems, and I felt comfortable that the company ... walked away with some good lessons learned on that spill and will be incorporating that in this line," she said.

The 16-inch pipeline in Billings and Stark counties will run 15 miles parallel to an existing 8-inch Bridger pipeline, boosting capacity by 125,000 barrels per day from the Skunk Hills station to the Fryburg station, where the system connects to a 12-inch pipeline to Baker, Mont.

Fedorchak said the pipeline is "a key piece of infrastructure" and will alleviate a bottleneck in the system, which serves the Midwest.

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"This is a significant increase in our export capacity," Commissioner Randy Christmann said, adding that following an existing pipeline route will minimize environmental impacts.

In July, the Laborers International Union of North America urged the PSC to reject the pipeline, citing what it called Bridger's poor track record of spills, which the company disputed.

Fedorchak said the PSC examined a 10-year leak history from the company, and a control center in Casper, Wyo., will monitor the new pipeline around the clock.

She said that while the Yellowstone River spill was "a really unfortunate incident," that pipeline was 60 years old and was trenched under the river. The new $10.4 million pipeline will be bored 30 feet under the intermittent Heart River using horizontal directional drilling.

"That's the biggest difference to me, not open trenching where the soil is going to erode quicker," Commissioner Brian Kalk said. "Now they're not quite into the bedrock, but they're pretty close."

The commission unanimously approved a route permit and certificate of corridor compatibility for the pipeline. Construction is expected to start this year, Fedorchak said.

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