The North Dakota Industrial Commission voted unanimously Friday to change how it monitors oil conditioning standards that aim to make Bakken crude oil safer for transportation.
The commission will now require companies to submit vapor pressure tests twice a year instead of quarterly, focused on winter months when problems are more likely to arise, said Lynn Helms, Department of Mineral Resources director.
The state requires companies to remove the most volatile gases from crude oil and test the vapor pressure to ensure it doesn’t exceed 13.7 pounds per square inch.
Since the regulations took effect in 2005, the industry has conducted more than 60,000 vapor pressure tests and about one in 1,000 tests exceeded the state’s limit, according to Helms.
The new requirements will focus enforcement to winter months, requiring one vapor pressure test between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 and a second between Jan. 1 and March 31.
In addition, Helms said all pipeline companies and many rail facilities have adopted the state’s vapor pressure limit.
Operators with contractual agreements that require them to meet the 13.7 psi limit could forego submitting vapor pressure tests if they submit documents verifying the agreement they have with transporters. Regulators will conduct spot checks to ensure compliance, Helms said.
“By doing this, we’re increasing the amount of vapor pressure testing that’s going on, we’re just not collecting all of those records,” Helms said.
Industry supported revising the regulations during a public hearing in November, with the North Dakota Petroleum Council advocating for annual vapor pressure tests.
Critics argue North Dakota’s oil conditioning regulations don’t go far enough. The Dakota Resource Council said at the November hearing that if the industry is easily meeting the standard, that’s an indication that requirements are not doing much.
About 300,000 barrels of oil per day left the state by rail in November, with most shipments headed for West Coast refineries, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.