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Governor to form advisory panel on pipeline safety

BISMARCK — Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Monday he is forming an advisory panel to research the latest technologies available to enhance pipeline safety in North Dakota, saying a major oil spill discovered near Tioga on Sept. 29 has changed attitudes about possible problems with pipelines.

Dalrymple said the group will include independent engineers, members of the pipeline industry and state officials who will research technological solutions and recommend ways to improve pipeline monitoring and control.

That will include looking at whether the state should adopt its own “plus oversight” regulatory system on top of rules and requirements currently enforced by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, he said.

“But I think it would be premature to say we need that because we need to know more about what’s out there and what the differences are between their requirements and what we might be interested in doing,” he said during Monday’s meeting of the state Industrial Commission, which he chairs.

Dalrymple said he met Monday with two PHMSA officials and they agreed to have a member of the agency’s technical staff support the advisory panel.

North Dakota already cooperates with the federal agency on regulating gas pipelines within the state, with the state Public Service Commission taking the regulatory lead.

“And apparently that works quite well, so it is possible,” Dalrymple said, adding, “We don’t want to presume that we’re somehow deficient.”

Dalrymple noted PHMSA requires enhanced pipeline monitoring and control technology in “high consequence” areas such as cities and near drinking water supplies, but generally not in rural areas.

Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, called the advisory panel “a great start.”

He said that in his experience, the most effective federal regulatory programs are those in which states can apply to be the primary regulators and carry out inspections and enforcement of the rules — one example being the state Health Department’s oversight of underground injection wells for saltwater, a byproduct of oil production. The Public Service Commission also regulates the state’s coal industry in compliance with the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

If a state oversight program were to be created for oil pipelines, Helms said it would make sense for his department’s Oil and Gas Division to oversee gathering pipelines that move oil, natural gas and saltwater from wells to tank sites and for the PSC to oversee transport pipelines carrying product to market.

Dalrymple’s advisory panel is the latest action to result from the Tesoro Logistics pipeline leak discovered Sept. 29 in a wheat field near Tioga, the largest spill during North Dakota’s current oil boom.

“I think we should be very interested in this because obviously anytime you have a 20,000-barrel spill, you know, that changes everyone’s attitude toward possible problems,” he said.

On Wednesday, three Democratic-NPL lawmakers will hold a field hearing about the spill from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Mountrail County South Complex in Stanley. State officials, representatives of landowner and environmental groups and the manager of Tesoro’s Mandan refinery are among those expected to testify at the public hearing.

In other business Monday, Helms told the Industrial Commission that a task force studying ways to reduce natural gas flaring in the Oil Patch expects to present an update at the commission’s December meeting. The Department of Mineral Resources may bring forward recommendations on flaring-related policies, rule changes, orders or hearings as early as January, he said.

Mike Nowatzki

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