Progress through pipelines

They are the arteries of our country, delivering water, energy and fuel to cities, towns and remote areas all across our nation. They are pipelines, and like the veins that course through our bodies, they are vital to the Bakken.
By Tessa Sandstrom | October 20, 2015

They are the arteries of our country, delivering water, energy and fuel to cities, towns and remote areas all across our nation. They are pipelines, and like the veins that course through our bodies, they are vital in delivering the resources needed for our very way of life.

Every day in the United States, more than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines and 2.4 million miles of natural gas pipelines deliver energy to support our nation’s economy. A vast majority—99.999 percent, to be exact, arrives at its destination safely, making pipelines the most effective, efficient and economical way to transport the liquid petroleum and natural gas that millions of Americans rely on.

Although North Dakota has been an oil-producing state for more than 60 years, only recently has the state risen to become the second-largest oil-producing state in the nation. The changing technologies of oil and natural gas development have allowed for faster and more efficient means of recovering oil resources, which has brought many benefits to the state, including a faster growing economy, more jobs and the displacement of imported foreign oil, meaning greater energy security for our nation and cheaper fuel for each of us. Yet, this rapid growth has also made it difficult for pipeline infrastructure to keep up with the current demand. Trucks and railroads have been relied upon to haul oil to its destinations, while some natural gas has been flared due to lack of pipeline infrastructure.

Yet, our state is making progress.  Already we’ve seen the amount of crude hauled by rail drop from a high of 75 percent to less than 50 percent. More than 1,250 miles of gathering lines and 75,000 barrels per day of takeaway capacity are capturing and transporting more natural gas, leading to far less flaring each year. Another $1.6 billion in natural gas infrastructure planned through 2017 will help reduce that amount even more.

In terms of cross-country movement of our resources, four pipeline projects are pending, and, if approved, would transport an additional 1 million barrels of oil per day from North Dakota via pipeline. This is the equivalent of eliminating 1,505 rail tank cars every day, significantly reducing traffic on railroad tracks.

These and other projects are needed. Despite the fact that pipelines remain the key to solving many of our state’s challenges, there are those who are standing in the way of progress. These critics often use spills as a reason for halting infrastructure development, but too often, the full story is not being told. Pipeline releases are an unfortunate reality, but they are by no means permanent.

In partnership with the Energy and Environmental Research Center and North Dakota State University, industry is exploring new and better ways of cleaning up spills. By using the latest techniques and science, industry is able to return land to its original condition in as little as one year even in cases where saltwater is concerned.

To remedy old spills that occurred prior to 1983, the state legislature appropriated $1.5 million, with $500,000 of these funds directed toward a pilot program to study and establish best practices for responsibly removing salt from soil. An additional $1.5 million has been directed to EERC to study and analyze pipeline standards to ensure North Dakota’s pipelines are built with the best technology and materials available today.

Another challenge is securing right of ways and easements. Landowners are rightly experiencing fatigue as they are often asked multiple times for access to their land to install electric lines and crude, water or natural gas pipelines. Reclamation challenges have also caused some strife with landowners, but again, industry has been working to help resolve these issues.

A Right of Way Task Force made up of landowner associations, local leaders and industry representatives worked together to create a number of resources, including best practices and a hotline for reporting issues related to pipeline reclamation. In the last legislative session an ombudsman program operated by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture was created. This program, which has so far been successful, works with both the operator and landowner to ensure issues are resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.  

A comprehensive pipeline network is vital to our economies, businesses, homes and very way of life. These veins traverse our nation, state, counties and cities, eventually coming into our homes to deliver water at the twist of a knob for cooking and cleaning and natural gas at the flick of a switch. They deliver comfort and convenience to us every day, and in North Dakota, they are the key to solving many of the challenges associated with oil and gas development. Pipelines are not perfect, but industry stands ready to remedy any imperfections to ensure the energy and resources we each depend upon are available with the flick of a switch. 

Author: Tessa Sandstrom
Communications Manager,
North Dakota Petroleum Council