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Town Oil: 5 rigs and wells produce oil within Dickinson city limits

Oil rigs, like this one in south Dickinson along Interstate 94 Business Loop, actively produce oil within city limits, Fire Chief Bob Sivak said. Though there are regulations, oil wells are allowed to drill in city limits.

Looking out the window, residents may see an oil rig across the street from their duplex.

"We have some wells that were drilled around the edges of Dickinson, and now the city has grown out and around those wells," said Lynn Helms, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director.

In a presentation to the Dickinson City Commission Nov. 21, Fire Chief Bob Sivak said there are five oil-producing wells and four tank batteries within city limits. He claimed five additional wells, three tank batteries and one saltwater injection site will come into city limits after recent annexation.

At the presentation, he showed a saltwater injection well site struck by lightning in Texas. The tank exploded andburst into flames.

"When you talk about wells, you talk about crude oil and crude oil production and the inherent, possible hazards related to that," Sivak said. "Sometimes, when you talk about saltwater well or a saltwater injections sites, its spoken like it's a water well. It's not a hazard"

He added the tanks on the sites are traditionally made of fiberglass, and they are definitely a hazard.

City Planner Ed Courton said he wasn't sure where Sivak got his information from.

"I would think we have oil wells around the city," Courton said. "Will we have more in the general area? Undoubtedly so. To what extent, I don't know."

There are several state regulations for oil wells and rigs within city limits. Wells and rigs cannot be built within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling -- meaning occupants have lived in a residence building for at least six months of the calendar year. Helms said that would normally exclude wells from within city limits.

"That's pretty restrictive," he said. "A normal lot is usually 100 feet.

The Dickinson City Code states that all physical structures, including wells, structures and all relationship to all buildings, be within a 660-foot radius. City Attorney Matthew Kolling said the North Dakota Industrial Commission controls where oil wells are located.

"The city is allowed some role for providing some screening for adjoining properties and making sure other adjoining properties aren't negatively affected by the well," Kolling said.

Helms said there are safety concerns for residents living near wells and rigs, such as leaks and spills. Regulations require that wells be fenced and gated. He added companies must put vapor-recovery systems on tanks. Wells within city limits are not allowed to burn flares either

"We do put a lot of production stipulations on them once they end up in city limits so that we are not exposing anyone to tank vapor or any type of safety hazards that would come from somebody going on the well site and getting injured," Helms said.

Helms said the probability of accidents involving flares happening is low. In the last 10 years, 157 oil-related incidents have occurred, according to the Department of Mineral Resources, 22 of them due to equipment failure or flaring.

"It happens, not frequently, but more often than acceptable if you had houses or dwellings around the well," he said.

Helms said the oil and gas division visits the wells once a month, so it needs to rely on local law enforcement to report leaks, spills and injuries. He added he would encourage local planning and zoning to keep city limits away from wells.

"With the modern horizontal techniques and the directional drilling techniques, there should be no reason for a well to have to be place close to city limits," he said.