North Dakota oil and gas regulators are considering changes to the state’s oil conditioning order that requires companies to remove the most volatile gases.
The rules that took effect in April 2015 aimed to make Bakken crude oil safer for transportation following explosive train derailments. The regulations require companies to test the vapor pressure of crude oil to ensure that it doesn’t exceed 13.7 pounds per square inch.
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said the industry has conducted 60,000 vapor pressure tests since the regulations took effect. Helms told members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission last week that the vast majority of tests have been within the state’s limits.
However, companies sometimes struggle to meet the requirements in early and late winter, or when the temperature is between 20 degrees and 40 degrees, Helms said.
In those cases, companies are required to adjust their equipment or take other steps to condition the oil before it is loaded onto rail cars or into pipelines.
The Industrial Commission proposes to eliminate a requirement for quarterly vapor pressure tests. Instead, the regulations would require the tests “pursuant to commission approved oil conditioning policy/guidance.”
How often the vapor pressure tests would be required has not been determined.
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, one of the three members of the Industrial Commission, said he’s in favor of amending the regulations to focus efforts on the times of year when problems with vapor pressure tests tend to show up.
“We’ve been out here sampling 60,000 times. I’m not so sure we need to be out there wasting government time doing this and start focusing on it looks like October-November, February-March, when we have that transition time,” Goehring said.
Gov. Doug Burgum, chairman of the commission, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joined Goehring in voting on Friday to proceed with amending the state’s oil conditioning order.
A comment period opened up this week, with details posted to the Oil and Gas Division website, www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas.
Helms told commissioners there was an anomaly in the 3.5 years of monitoring where a company exceeded the vapor pressure limits in July. It was determined to be caused by equipment that was not properly adjusted.
Critics have said North Dakota’s oil conditioning regulations don’t go far enough.
Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the federal Department of Transportation and Department of Energy to pass tougher standards to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil that’s transported through New York.
Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil has increased in recent months, but volumes traveling by rail are still far below the peak in 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. Most crude oil transported by rail travels to the West and East coasts.
The commission will accept comments through 5 p.m. Oct. 1. Officials do not intend to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes. However, a request for hearing can be submitted in writing by Oct. 1.
The Industrial Commission is expected to take final action on the changes during an Oct. 25 meeting.
Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Oil and Gas Division, 1016 E. Calgary Ave., Bismarck, ND 58503-5512.