When drilling for oil in North Dakota, land reclamation a mustRestoring the land to its original state after oil drilling ceases is a necessary step in energy production, particularly in North Dakota, where reclamation is law.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series looking into land reclamation as it pertains to oil drilling.
Restoring the land to its original state after oil drilling ceases is a necessary step in energy production, particularly in North Dakota, where reclamation is law.
Brian Kempenich, regulatory compliance coordinator for Whiting Petroleum, where he deals with well permitting and regulatory issues, said reclamation is defined as restoring the land as closely as practicable to the original conditions.
Kempenich said North Dakota Industrial Commission rules require that reclamation must be within a reasonable time, but not more than a year after the well is plugged. Well site access roads and other facilities constructed of the well should be reclaimed as close as possible to the original conditions.
He said the plans for reclamation must be filed with the state and
given to the landowner within a certain timeframe.
“Final reclamation actually begins when you stake a well,” he said. “Once your soil is removed, you are basically in a reclamation state. Success, as far as reclamation goes, is having a stable site that is established with the desired vegetation and no noxious weeds on the location.”
When reclamation is complete, the company must notify the state again. Additional reclamation requirements may be in place depending on the entities being dealt with, including a tribal energy department and Bureau of Indian Affairs, fish and wildlife, corps of engineer local county governments, state land.
Based in Bismarck, Nelson Klitzka, a regulatory specialist with WPX Energy, has been heavily involved in oil and gas industry planning since 2010 and works in restoring oil sites on the Fort Berthold reservation.
He works closely with the BIA, Bureau of Land Management and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Energy Department on a variety of projects, including oil well pad planning, pipeline routing and permitting, primarily in the southwest portions of the reservation, around Mandaree and New Town.
“Working within selected portions of (the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation), provides for multiple interim reclamation triggers at the federal, state and local levels,” Klitzka said.
Agencies involved in the reservation’s interim reclamation of lands not being used for oil production include the BIA and tribal energy.
“One of the first things that really goes into the interim reclamation process for us is the environmental assessment on-site,” Klitzka said. “I would describe that as kind of a collaborative infield meeting between the BIA, tribal energy, industry representatives and environmental consultants.”
Klitzka said the reclamation process begins with a “soft staking of the well pad” to anticipate impacts related to the proposed development and then trying to minimize those impacts.
“When I say soft staking, we’ll go out there and we might put a center stake in the ground roughly where we plan to drill a hole, four corners for where we think the pad will be and a center line for all of our linear facilities,” he said. “This allows us to actually look at it and anticipate where we think is going to be an issue, in terms of interim reclamation.”
Once all of the parties are relatively accepting of the soft staking, Klitzka said the process moves onto the right-of-way on-site, which is a collaborative field meeting where the prospective well is staked.
He said this time the company shows the working surface of the well pad, stakes for the overall surface disturbance, centerline for all linear facilities and right-of-ways for the linear facilities, which are pipelines, access roads, and buried electric or fiber optic communication lines.
“It’s really at this point in the process that interim reclamation plans take shape,” Klitzka said. “We normally show up to these meetings with a draft plat package. We will all review it and begin to discussing our interim reclamation plans. We, at that point, will take comments, considerations and revisions for it.”
Anytime a proposed project is going to break ground on surface ground held in trust by the BIA or minerals held in trust by the Bureau of Land Management, Klitzka said interim reclamation language is included within the environmental assessment to which the well site operator must commit.
For example, Klitzka said one of the company’s assessments included that interim reclamation is required six months after construction, if it is environmentally feasible, covering of topsoil piles to prevent soil erosion and subsequent loss of soil during spring snow melt and precipitation events, and a commitment to control noxious weeds with the right-of-way.
Klitzka said the company also has to satisfy the Bureau of Land Management’s requirements, which provides broad language to suit different locations.
“Note that these are commitments that the operator develops on behalf of themselves, and say that if we are allowed to drill in this location we will adhere to these commitments,” he said.
If the plans are approved, the company gets a list of planting guides to replant grass that meets North Dakota seed lot requirements.
“Since we are technically talking about Fort Berthold and this is federally jurisdictional surface and minerals, one would expect that the state does not have any input whatsoever, but that is not the case,” he said. “The (North Dakota Industrial Commission), under its own Century Code and rules and regulations, has a portion that specifically calls out that it will have jurisdiction over oil and gas
The time between soft staking to final reclamation will vary, but Klitzka said interim reclamation is “a responsible way for to develop resources.”
“No one wants to see an eyesore with a bunch of junk and trash coming off of it,” he said. “Beyond the production and extraction of minerals, we feel that this also creates a good neighborly feeling.”
Les Simnioniw with the Billings County Weed Board said he’s found that the oil companies do well with controlling weeds on well
pads, but the problems are between the fences and the well pads.
“This is where we’re seeing things, like Canada thistle. Not the good kinds of weeds and that’s where I get landowner complaints,” he said. Simnioniw said he deals with the complaints by speaking with the oil companies.
“They are very receptive to getting things corrected,” he said. “I challenge the oil companies to get me involved. I’m not an expert, but we have experts around us.”
All 53 counties have a county weed board and Simnioniw encourages residents to use those boards to help with weed issues.