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Coronavirus concerns prompt Hess to delay projects at Tioga Gas Plant

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Flaring

Gas flaring takes place at a well site east of New Town on Dec. 12, 2018. 

Hess Corp. is delaying several projects underway at its natural gas processing plant in Tioga to avoid bringing in numerous out-of-state workers amid a coronavirus outbreak at the facility.

The company is in the process of expanding its Tioga Gas Plant to handle another 150 million cubic feet per day of gas, bringing its total processing capacity to 400 million cubic feet per day.

Hess is, however, proceeding with expansion work and expects construction to wrap up by the end of the year, as those working on the expansion are primarily North Dakota residents or have been living in the area for several months, according to a company press release and a spokesman. The company expects the expanded capacity to be available, incrementally, in 2021 pending the completion of other projects at the site.

It’s those other projects that Hess is delaying, including a maintenance turnaround and a “tie-in,” in which new pipelines are to be connected to the facility. The projects were expected to bring in 300 workers during peak construction, and many would have traveled from other states, spokesman Rob Young said in an email.

Earlier this month, the company said several contractors working at the site had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have been closely monitoring the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and believe the rising number of cases in the U.S. posed a risk to the project given the number of out-of-state workers that would have been needed to complete the planned maintenance,” Young said Monday. “The safety of our workforce and the communities where we operate is our top priority.”

Hess is delaying the maintenance and tie-in until 2021.

It’s unclear how many workers have contracted the virus. Young said one of Hess’s employees tested positive and has since recovered. At least some of the contractors who tested positive worked for Texas-based Ohmstede Industrial Services, which said that eight of its workers tested positive. Just one showed symptoms.

Norman Thornton, president of Ohmstede, said in a statement that the company imposed safety protocols consistent with federal guidelines at the start of the pandemic.

"The health and safety of our employees, customers and partners are our top priorities," he said.

The president of the Tioga City Commission, Drake McClelland, characterized the outbreak as small and contained.

“I was happy that they were thinking about the people instead of getting the job done,” he said.

McClelland works for Hess and said that despite the maintenance project delay, work has not entirely shut down. North Dakota-based companies are performing smaller tasks at the site, he said.

The Tioga City Hall closed for a week earlier this month amid the outbreak while public health agencies organized a mass testing event in the town of about 2,500 in Williams County.

“We’re a small government,” McClelland said. “I couldn’t afford to get the virus in my city hall.”

City hall is open again with social distancing and other measures in place to prevent the virus from spreading, he said.

The delays at the Tioga Gas Plant are among several across the Bakken related to the pandemic, which caused oil prices to fall and led to a downturn in the oil patch. Oneok is pausing most construction on its Bear Creek processing plant near Killdeer, and it’s suspending the planned expansion of its Demicks Lake processing plant near Watford City.

Oneok is also scaling back its planned Elk Creek Pipeline expansion. The pipeline runs from eastern Montana to Kansas, carrying natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane and butane to market.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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