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Right-of-way access may pose biggest delay in capturing gas

Reuters Photo A warning sign for a natural gas pipeline is seen as natural gas flares at an oil pump site outside of Williston on March 11, 2013.

FARGO — A key to solving North Dakota’s chronic gas flaring problem will be to overcome landowner objections to allowing collection lines on their property.

A petroleum industry task force is proposing policies and legislation to enhance right-of-way access for gathering lines and transmission pipelines for natural gas.

Time spent obtaining right-of-way access, which can take up to 180 days, is the biggest cause of delay in connecting wells to natural gas collection systems, said Eric Dillé, government relations director for EOG Resources, based in Denver, and a member of the industry task force.

“Easement fatigue,” weariness from landowners who repeatedly are asked for permission to allow pipelines or other infrastructure on their property, is an acknowledged problem, he said.

“Some landowners just say I don’t want any more pipe on my property,” Dillé told The Forum Editorial Board on Thursday.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said overcoming landowner objections is the biggest challenge in the Bakken Formation.

“We have to get these pipes in the ground,” Ness told the editorial board. “We’ve got to find a way for some reasonable arbitration.”

In telephone interviews, landowner representatives said they want to work with the oil and gas industry to solve right-of-way access problems.

Petroleum companies often are in a rush to secure landowner approval for projects planned years in advance, said Tom Wheeler, who farms two miles north of Ray in Williams County. He is a member of the Northwest Landowners Association.

Landowners, who often face a wait of several weeks for a lawyer to review a proposed easement agreement, often are pushed for approval in four to six weeks, he said. Gas developers should allow more time and contact landowners much earlier, he said.

“We don’t want to sign a blank check,” Wheeler said. “No one signs a blank check.”

He added that almost all landowners understand the need for pipelines.

“It’s not about the money,” Wheeler said. “For most of us, it’s the dirt work,” ensuring that trenches are properly filled and placed to avoid damage and mitigate impacts.

Wheeler has a trench with eight pipelines running through his land, and said he understands pipelines can take trucks off the roads.

“You’re taking agricultural land and turning it into industrial sites,” restricting future usage and introducing liability concerns, Wheeler said.

Myron Hanson, who farms in Bottineau County near Souris and another member of the Northwest Landowners Association, said farmers want to reduce flaring. Sometimes they can live 500 feet to 1,000 feet from a flaring site, he said.

“You can’t imagine how big some of these flares are,” Hanson said.

Still, landowners are frustrated with the way some companies treat them.

“Frankly, people are just tired of being pressured and lied to by some of these companies, not all of them,” he said. “The industry has brought this on themselves with their past behavior.”

The industry task force has embraced a goal of capturing 85 percent of natural gas within two years and up to 95 percent by 2020.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to