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Amendment cuts mandate for monitoring devices on new N.D. pipelines, puts decision in Industrial Commission’s hands

BISMARCK - A bill that would require monitoring devices on new oil and saltwater pipelines in North Dakota received a proposed amendment Thursday that would remove the mandate and put the decision in the hands of the state Industrial Commission.

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Reuters Photo Clean-up efforts continue Jan. 22 about 15 miles outside Williston after a pipeline spilled millions of gallons of saltwater into the Blacktail Creek.

BISMARCK – A bill that would require monitoring devices on new oil and saltwater pipelines in North Dakota received a proposed amendment Thursday that would remove the mandate and put the decision in the hands of the state Industrial Commission.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, introduced the bipartisan bill in the wake of a pipeline rupture this month that spilled nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater near Blacktail Creek north of Williston, the biggest saltwater spill of the current oil boom. A separate pipeline leak in eastern Montana spewed oil into the Yellowstone River, affecting the water supply in Glendive, Mont., and threatening drinking water for downstream cities, including Williston.

“We’ve come to a time when we have so many pipelines out there, we do have to make some regulations to control this,” Wardner told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during the bill’s first hearing Thursday.

The original bill ordered the three-member Industrial Commission to require flow meters, automatic shutoff valves and pressure cutoff switches on all new gas or liquid gathering pipelines, including those that carry saltwater, a byproduct of oil production.

An amendment proposed by Wardner on Thursday would remove that section and instead require operators to file engineering drawings of the underground pipeline and a certificate of inspection. It also states that the operator “shall include flow meters, over-pressure protection devices and alternative leak detection and monitoring technologies as may be required” by the Industrial Commission.

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Wardner said the language gives the commission flexibility to require new monitoring technologies as they’re developed, addressing a concern raised by Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms last week. Helms attended Thursday’s hearing but didn’t testify on the bill.

Asked how the public could be assured that monitoring equipment will be required, Wardner said, “You have to put your faith in your elected officials on the Industrial Commission.” The commission consists of Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, asked whether companies would be allowed to use their own inspectors or if the state would have to hire additional inspectors. Wardner indicated he’s leaning toward the latter option.

“I know it’s going to cost more, but I – and this is in a lot of areas of state government – I’ve just about had it up to my eyeballs with people taking care of their own. And when you have the fox guarding the henhouse, it’s not very good,” he said.

Wardner’s proposed amendments also move up the effective date of the requirements from June 30, 2017, to Aug. 1 of this year; requires that all pipelines be permitted and bonded; and orders an interim study of technology to detect or prevent pipeline leaks.

No one testified against the bill, and the committee didn’t act on it.

The 2013 Legislature rejected a similar bill after testimony that the flow meters and shutoff switches weren’t effective. Peter Desautel, sales manager for Preferred Controls Inc. of Minot, an engineering firm specializing in automation and control of fluid movement, said the technology is already in use.

“They are out there, they’re easily available, and they’re not that expensive,” he said.

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Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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