Legislature sees several bills on land reclamationIt’s the year of reclamation in the state Legislature, where lawmakers have dealt with an increasing number of bills dealing with the process.
By: Betsy Simon, The Dickinson Press
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series looking into land reclamation as it pertains to oil drilling.
It’s the year of reclamation in the state Legislature, where lawmakers have dealt with an increasing number of bills dealing with the process.
“It’s been an interesting year for legislation as it deals with reclamation,” said Mike Brand, director of surface management for the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands, which manages a little more than 7,000 acres of trust land. “In all of the years I’ve been there, there has not been this much interest in the Legislature in reclamation as I’ve seen this year.”
HB 1333, which is still making its way through the Legislature, deals with reclamation when a pipeline is abandoned.
“The bill establishes a GIS database in the NDIC of all pipelines constructed since Aug. 1, 2011,” Brand said. “Any pipeline or oil company would have to submit within 180 days of construction a GIS line, showing where the entire pipeline is located, to the Industrial Commission for its database.
“That is important because it’s not a fun thing to go out on a well site and work on reclamation, and you find a pipeline and you don’t know what it is. Is it active? Where did it come from? Where does it go? You don’t want to just cut it because that could be a disaster, so the database allows them to get ahead of it now.”
Brand said the GIS mapping has been going on in the last two years, and that’s when a majority of the pipelines in the Bakken oil fields were installed.
“We’ll finally have a way of knowing where those pipelines are and if someone sells their land, the next land owner will have a way of knowing where those pipelines are,” he said.
The bill also establishes a reclamation fund, not to exceed $75 million, to reclaim abandoned pipelines and wells.
“This bill has support of landowners, the Industrial Commission, the governor and the oil industry,” he said. “We hope it survives and I think it will because it’s got broad-based support from everybody. It’s a good bill and we hope it stays in there.”
As of today, Brand said all bills that have been submitted to the Senate or the House have to be passed over to the other chamber, or the bills will die.
The other two bills concerning reclamation — House Bill 1347 and HB 1349 — have come before the Legislature this session, but were defeated, Brand said.
HB 1347, which Brand said was a duplicate bill, would have required the installation of flow meters and pressure cutoff switches on all gas and liquid transmission lines used in oil and gas development, including saltwater pipelines, which are not regulated by the public service commission.
HB 1349 would have provided for reclamation and surface owner protection, but Brand said the bill had issues with the way it was written and it died by a vote of 69-28.
Brian Kempenich, regulatory compliance coordinator for Whiting Petroleum, estimated that well sites built today will be around for 30-plus years.
“We’re not doing many reclamations right now because we’re still building well sites,” he said. “Today, a lot of the well sites we’re building are multiple well pads, so the length of time those will be around could be even longer. We try to look out 30 or 40 years at what the processes and requires will be for those facilities when they do become reclaimed.”
While the oil and gas industry is regulated in the state, Brand said what may be one of the biggest hurdles for landowners are the industries that do not have state oversight.
“One of the things that affect a lot of people in western North Dakota now is gravel mining, and we’ve seen an explosion of gravel mining,” Brand said. “A well pad may be 8 to 10 acres or up to 20 acres, but these gravel mines could cover 168 acres,” he said. “That’s we see a lot in our agency and it’s become a begin issue for (the Department of Trust Lands).
“So if you are looking to somebody, some agencies, to do like they do with coal mine lands and say this what you have to do in order to mine and reclaim gravel, it’s not going to happen because it’s an unregulated industry, which means it is up to the landowner.”
Brand, who has been working in the reclamation industry for 30 years, said there is also a bill in the Legislature now that would give the Industrial Commission the authority to regulate salt water injection wells.
“Salt water is not related to minerals,” he said. “It is a surface impact and relates only to the landowner. If someone else owns the minerals underneath, it has nothing to do with the salt water disposal. It’s something the surface owner needs to take seriously and work with the oil industry on, as far as the reclamation specifications that they want to see on those salt water wells.”