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Pipeline technology groups begins work

BISMARCK – Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he hopes an advisory group that began its work here Thursday will help North Dakota become the nation’s leader in technology-driven pipeline safety.

The governor appointed the North Dakota Pipeline Technology Working Group last month in response to a Tesoro Logistics pipeline leak that spewed 20,600 barrels of oil near Tioga before it was discovered Sept. 29.

Dalrymple said he was “shocked” the state could have a spill that large, and that he, like many, believed sophisticated devices were already in place to monitor pipeline flows and detect such leaks.

While oil-by-rail has received more scrutiny and attention from the governor and other elected officials since last week’s derailment and explosion of BNSF railcars carrying Bakken crude near Casselton, Dalrymple said the pipeline panel’s work is important.

“We would like to become known as the state that has the very best practices out there,” he said.

The 15-member advisory panel, made up of energy company representatives, private engineers and state and federal officials, is tasked with studying and providing recommendations regarding the best technologies available for monitoring and controlling oil and gas pipelines in North Dakota.

The panel includes two representatives from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees 2.5 million miles of natural gas and liquid pipelines, most of them gas distribution lines to people’s homes, said Kenneth Lee, director of PHMSA’s engineering and research division.

With only about 100 inspectors, “we count on a lot of state partners to do a lot of the regulation oversight, especially with the distribution lines,” Lee said.

In North Dakota, the state Public Service Commission oversees intrastate natural gas lines. Since the Tioga spill, PSC members have discussed whether they should also regulate intrastate oil pipelines in partnership with PHMSA.

Dalrymple didn’t seem in favor of that idea Thursday.

“I am less inclined to get involved as a state in human oversight of pipelines,” he said. “I find that that is probably less effective in terms of time and cost than what we might achieve through technology.”

In addition to discussing current standards for monitoring pipeline pressures and flows, the panel also talked about standards for pipelines running through population centers and environmentally sensitive areas, which PHMSA refers to as “high-consequence areas.”

Dalrymple said as a sparsely populated state, North Dakota “might have a slightly different view of what is high consequence.” PHMSA engineer Max Kieba said there’s ongoing discussion about whether more areas should be considered high-consequence and therefore held to higher standards that require additional monitoring devices and inspections.

“From a technology perspective, there is a dividing line there,” he said.

The group tentatively hopes to have its recommendations completed in about six months, said North Dakota Pipeline Authority Justin Kringstad, who will now chair the group.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.