It’s hard to fix a problem when you don’t have reliable information about the cause. That’s apparently the case with pipeline spills in North Dakota.
In the process of doing a pipeline study, researchers at the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center discovered information on pipeline leaks is rarely available. “If we don’t learn from our mistakes, how do we learn?” John Harju, the EERC’s vice president for strategic partnerships, told the Forum News Service. Of course you need to know how the mistakes were made and that information is lacking.
This is an unacceptable situation and fortunately steps are being taken to remedy it and the solutions need to come quickly. North Dakota reported more than 825,000 gallons of oil and more than 2.9 million gallons of saltwater spilled in 2014 because of pipeline leaks. The completed EERC pipeline study provides 23 recommendations for preventing leaks in gathering pipelines, which transport liquids from wells to processing facilities. The pipelines are regulated by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
The EERC study also says more emphasis needs to be put on proper installation, more thorough inspections and improving the ability to learn from past spills. Researchers believe the lack of information about the pipeline leaks can be linked to companies being involved in lawsuits after a spill. All the companies involved in establishing the pipeline aren’t willing to accept responsibility if a lawsuit is pending, thus the lack of information available.
The EERC report says the state should have the authority to participate in the failure analysis and share information about leading causes with the industry. The Legislature made it known during this past session that monitoring of the pipelines needs to be improved.
The Department of Mineral Resources staff will use the study to develop new rules that will be drafted early next year and are tentatively scheduled to take effect in 2017. The department’s director, Lynn Helms, thinks the study’s recommendations will lead to fewer spills. The EERC thinks the number of spills may be decreasing, but others, like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, disagree. It’s hard to know who is right with the present lack of information.
The state needs to take some immediate steps to reduce spills before the new rules take effect in 2017. The leaks threaten the environment and the reputations of all companies involved and the state.
The new rules in 2017 and the next phase of the EERC study focusing on leak detection technology, hopefully, should drastically reduce the problem.