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Oil regulators visit spill site amid hearing on tougher regulations

Oil regulators visit spill site amid hearing on tougher regulations

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Oil Rules

Assistant Attorney General Hope Hogan, from left, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms and Pipeline Program Supervisor Kevin Connors listen to public comments during a hearing in Williston on Wednesday.

WILLISTON – Oil and gas regulators visiting Williston on Wednesday did more than listen to public comments about proposed pipeline rules.

The Department of Mineral Resources contingent also visited the site of the state’s largest pipeline spill, an event that was the impetus for many of the regulations now being considered.

Director Lynn Helms and others from the department visited the Blacktail Creek spill cleanup site where a Meadowlark Midstream pipeline leaked an estimated 3 million gallons of produced water.

That spill, which was discovered in January 2015 while North Dakota’s Legislature was in session, was one of the factors that led legislators to ask for new oil and gas rules and dedicate more staff to regulating gathering pipelines.

“That drove the creation of the pipeline program and why I’m here in the position today,” said Kevin Connors, who recently became the state’s pipeline program supervisor.

Connors, who visited the Blacktail Creek site for the first time Wednesday, said seeing the cleanup site reinforced the need to prevent spills and to improve leak detection and spill response.

“Looking at this, it helps me put in perspective what we’re trying to accomplish with the pipeline program and with the rules we’re adopting,” Connors said.

Earlier Wednesday, the regulators held their third public hearing on the proposed oil and gas rules.

Nearly 50 people attended the Williston hearing, but only a handful of people testified and the hearing concluded in less than 45 minutes.

Laura Erickson, who works for environmental services company Cardno, gave suggestions for clarifying some proposed rules related to saltwater handling facilities that she said were confusing to some in the industry.

After the hearing, Erickson said she thinks some regulations on gathering pipelines are necessary, but “in some cases it’s been a little bit of an overreach.”

Randy Weaver, a pipeliner from Watford City who attended the hearing, said he thinks the state should raise the standards for gathering pipeline installation.

“A lot of the good contractors follow the rules, but some of the lesser contractors are doing some pretty shoddy work,” Weaver said.

Helms said the panel has received a lot of feedback on the definition of “interested party,” but not much input yet on other rules.

A proposal to require 1-foot perimeter berms around all well sites is estimated to cost the industry $14 million to implement but aims to reduce the number of spills that get off location and harm the environment.

Helms said Wednesday while talking to Williston community leaders that the industry is expected to produce 400 million barrels of oil next year, so the cost for the new berms will amount to about 4 cents per barrel next year.

“That doesn’t seem like an outlandish number to fix a serious problem,” he said.

Helms said he expects to get a high volume of written comments, which will be accepted through 5 p.m. April 25.

“Part of the approach this time around has been to listen, like we are, and then submit written comments after the hearings,” Helms said.

The final public hearing will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Oil and Gas Division Minot field office, 7 3rd St. S.E., Suite 107, Minot. For more information about how to submit comments, www.dmr.nd.gov/oilgas.

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