18,000 miles of N.D. pipelines to come under state regulation
BISMARCK – About 18,000 miles of pipelines in North Dakota that previously had no oversight will now be regulated under rules approved Thursday by the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
The requirements for pipelines are among new oil and gas regulations expected to take effect next spring, many resulting from bills passed in the recent legislative session.
“This would be the biggest amendment of oil and gas rules in North Dakota history,” said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources.
Helms estimates that the Industrial Commission would gain jurisdiction over 18,000 miles of underground gathering pipelines that transfer oil, gas, saltwater and other liquids and are not monitored by other state or federal agencies. He anticipates that an additional 30,000 miles of such lines will be constructed in the state in the future.
Previously, the state has not had a record of the locations of these pipelines. The new rules require mapping of new pipelines and general guidelines for installing pipelines.
“This is an enormous change in terms of regulatory authority,” Helms said. “To this point, gathering pipelines have not been regulated, and most states do not regulate them.”
A federal agency monitors large pipelines that carry crude oil to market and the state Public Service Commission monitors natural gas pipelines.
The rules also set aside gross production tax money into a restoration fund so there is money available to clean up a pipeline leak if a responsible party can’t be found.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, one of the three Industrial Commission members, said he’s glad to see the new regulations for gathering lines, which coincide with an advisory panel he’s appointing to study technologies to enhance pipeline safety.
“It’s clear that our risk increases as we add more and more miles out there of gathering lines,” Dalrymple said.
Derrick Braaten, an attorney for the Northwest Landowners Association, which was active in the legislative session, said the rules are a step forward but did not go far enough. In particular, the group had pushed for greater technology to detect leaks in saltwater pipelines and stop them earlier.
“I think that many of the farmers and ranchers would agree that we have a serious problem with saltwater spills and it’s not being addressed as seriously as it needs to be,” Braaten said.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council said it welcomed the new regulations, but pointed out that they come two years after the state amended 26 sections of oil and gas rules that were considered to be sweeping changes at the time. The latest regulations involve changes to more than 40 sections of code.
“We support good, common-sense regulations, but let’s just recognize the massive number of regulations that we’re adding,” said Petroleum Council President Ron Ness.
The rules are still subject to further review by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, also a commission member, and are scheduled for an Administrative Rules Committee hearing in March. If approved, the final rules would be adopted April 1.
Another rule tightens regulations for treating plants that treat drill cuttings, drilling mud and other materials. Helms said the state used to have very few of these plants, but 42 have been approved since January 2010 and 12 are under review.
“There’s a need to totally revamp this rule,” he said.
The new requirements will ensure that each treating plant is on a more regular inspection schedule, Helms said.
In one of its comments, the Petroleum Council questioned whether the Department of Mineral Resources would have enough staff to manage the increased workload that results from the rule changes.
Helms said his agency has staffed up in preparation for these new rules and may need to add inspectors in the future.
The rules also give residents who live within 1,000 feet of a proposed well now the right to request that the flare stack and production equipment be placed farther away from their home than the wellhead. They have five business days or seven calendar days after receiving a company’s notice to drill to email their request.