WILLISTON, N.D. - A company under investigation for the largest pipeline spill in North Dakota history proposes to build a 3.2-mile oil pipeline to connect with Dakota Access.
Epping Transmission Co., a subsidiary of Summit Midstream Partners that continues to clean up after nearly 3 million gallons of produced water leaked in 2015, got support Tuesday, Nov. 22, from a labor union that previously was critical of the company.
A representative of the Laborers' International Union of North America testified during a Public Service Commission hearing that he supports the latest project from Summit Midstream because the company has adopted a new policy for selecting responsible contractors.
"They are taking a step in the right direction in our eyes," said Evan Whiteford, who criticized the company the last time it was before the commission. "And we look forward to this project being a success."
Epping Transmission Co. proposes to build a pipeline that could deliver 30,000 barrels of oil per day, with a maximum capacity of 70,000 barrels, to the Dakota Access Pipeline terminal near Epping, about 20 miles northeast of Williston. The $7 million project also would have a separate pipeline connection allowing it to deliver oil to the existing Divide Mainline Pipeline.
Meadowlark Midstream, another subsidiary of Summit Midstream, continues to be under investigation by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and North Dakota regulators for the spill discovered in January 2015 north of Williston that contaminated Blacktail Creek and eventually the Little Muddy and Missouri rivers.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission alleges the pipeline was leaking for more than three months before the spill was discovered. Remediation of the site is ongoing.
The same pipeline system leaked again a year later, but that time staff recognized an anomaly with the pipeline within an hour and had the system shut down within a few hours, an indication that the company's pipeline monitoring system works, testified Zak Cobar, a vice president for Summit.
In addition to around-the-clock pipeline monitoring, Summit said it has adopted a policy for hiring responsible contractors and requiring best practices.
That policy would not technically apply to the Epping project because it is a smaller project and doesn't meet a cost threshold in the policy, said Megan Davis, a vice president and assistant general counsel. However, there is an expectation that the company comply with the spirit of the new policy, which Davis said is their intention.
Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak expressed concerns about winter construction and questioned why the company didn't apply for the project sooner to avoid installing the pipeline after the ground freezes, making it more difficult to properly preserve the topsoil. The company applied for the project in late August and can't begin construction until the commission issues a permit.
"I'm not hearing a really compelling reason why you can't just start in March when you have better construction conditions for North Dakota and allow for more improved reclamation," Fedorchak said.
Michael Smith, senior vice president for of corporate development, said the construction timeline is not finalized because the completion date for Dakota Access is unknown. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to review the easement for the Lake Oahe crossing north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where demonstrations have been active since Aug. 10.
Smith said the project will take about four months to complete and the company would like to have it ready when Dakota Access becomes operational. The $3.8 billion, four-state pipeline, which was originally set to be in service at the end of this year, will transport oil to Patoka, Ill., where it can then be transported to Gulf Coast refineries.
"They see it as one of the key outlets for Bakken crude production," Smith said of Dakota Access. "Our customers want as many options and flexibility as possible so they can realize the highest crude price available to them in North Dakota."
The project is the sixth short pipeline to connect with Dakota Access that the commission has considered. Three have been constructed, one is under construction and another has been approved but construction is not expected to start until next spring.
Commissioners requested additional information before they will make a decision on the Epping project, including detailed information about how the company would handle winter construction.
"If it's ultimately going to be approved, I think there's going to be some pretty strict requirements to make sure that it is done successfully," Commissioner Randy Christmann said of winter construction.