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Well site poses little threat to housing: Dickinson City Commission makes exception to residential development

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Kathleen Spilman, managing director of Keitu Engineers & Consultants Inc. shows samples of crude oil from a well in a developing residential area to the Dickinson City Commission at its regular meeting at City Hall on Monday evening.

How close is too close when building houses near an oil well?

The Dickinson City Commission discussed the conundrum at its regular meeting Monday at City Hall.

"Kids and adults get hurt on well sites nationwide all the time," Dickinson Fire Department Chief Bob Sivak said. "They are something that some individuals will go to. ... There are definitely those concerns that the city needs to be aware of and that we need to have some hard and fast rules on."

Earlier this year the Commission approved an ordinance that expanded the minimum a residential unit could be built from an existing well from 150 feet to 300 feet. The developers of Koch Meadow Hills wanted a variance to this ordinance to allow houses to be built 150 feet away from an older producing oil well in north Dickinson.

The oil well is a vertical well that pumps mostly water at this point, Mandan-based Keitu Engineers & Consultants Inc. Managing Director Kathleen Spilman said.

The type of crude oil coming out of the well does not pose an immediate threat to residents, she said. It is thick and heavy and needs to be at 140 degrees Fahrenheit to pour.

That type of oil is also slow to ignite, she said. There is natural gas present in the well, but it leeks in the air and does not hug the ground seeking an ignition point.

"It's a very low risk being posed by this well," Spilman said. "The type of oil that would be emitted from that site is heavy, is thick, it does not have off-gassing, it's got a very high pour-point, it's very viscous, it's not going to flow very far."

Because the well is a vertical well it will not be fracked, she said.

The original 150-foot distance was determined using the 2009 international fire code which does not directly address residential dwellings existing in harmony with well sites, Sivak said.

"I would hope that this variance could be looked at that this does not set precedent," he said. "The best we can do in all cases from this point forward is to maintain the spacing -- minimum required spacing. The distance is what we are after."

The Commission passed the variance with one dissenting vote from Commissioner Shirley Dukart.

"I want you to know that (Federal Housing Administration) standards are 200 feet from the well site, so I will not support it," she said before voting.

Dukart also voted "no" to rezoning the area where the well is located from low density residential to medium density residential.

In other news:

The City Commission approved a new liquor license ordinance which allows it to take police incidents into consideration when renewing liquor licenses. The ordinance also creates a formal process for license holders to extend the one-year deadline between the time it obtains a license to the time it sells its first drink to two years with a formal letter.

The Commission approved all liquor licenses up for renewal.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206