ND government, industry meet to discuss pipeline safety

By Patrick C. Miller | May 30, 2017

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last week met with oil and gas industry representatives, state agency officials and other stakeholders to discuss measures to improve pipeline safety in the state.

The meeting at Bismarck (North Dakota) State College covered the best practices and the latest technologies for transporting oil and produced water in North Dakota. In addition, participants discussed how to improve pipeline monitoring, leak detection and communications when spills occur.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, attended the meeting and said it highlighted Burgum's pro-technology and pro-solutions approach.

"He was very encouraging about how the state and research and the industry can work together to try to make North Dakota a world-class leader in addressing the issues that result from pipelines," Ness said. "He recognizes that releases happen, but you need to ensure that you have the greatest technology to monitor them and quickly address them." 

Ness said the governor advocates the approach of working with industry that's been unsed in the past in the Bakken to address such issues as flaring, methane emissions, well site completions and saltwater remediation. 

"They’ve really relied on the industry to become a partner with solutions," he added. 

"The governor is looking to take a little bit of a different approach," said Mike Nowatzki, communications director for the governor's office. "It’s part of his overall philosophy of reinventing government, improving efficiency in government and making data-driven decisions." 

The invitation-only event included several dozen representatives of companies using pipelines to transport crude and produced water, as well as officials from the state Department of Mineral Resources, Department of Health, Public Service Commission, Pipeline Authority and the Three Affiliated Tribes Pipeline Authority on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

“Our administration is committed to improving spill prevention, encouraging the use of cutting-edge monitoring and detection measures and streamlining how spills are reported and analyzed to determine the root causes of pipeline leaks,” Burgum said. “The goal is continuous improvement—not more regulations—as we seek to shrink the number and volume of spills that can be costly to the environment, landowners and operators.”

The group examined the potential use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to monitor pipelines and the best practices for pipeline construction, monitoring and detection. According to the governor’s office, the state also is considering the creation of a single hotline for reporting pipeline spills, similar to the North Dakota One Call system used by homeowners and excavating companies to obtain information on pipeline locations.

"That’s to ensure that there’s a single focal point managing the reaction," Ness explained. "There’s a lot of entities involved with pipelines now over the last decade with the Bakken. A single call resource ensures that they’re all be routed through the same entity. It makes sense." 

"One of the things the governmor is interested in is streamlining the data—collection from spills to more readily and easily identify causes and potential solutions. He also wants to look at the best technologies and emerging technologies for improving monitoring, leak detections," Nowatzki said. 

State officials will hold future meetings with smaller focus groups to discuss how to best improve pipeline safety in areas of high consequence.