CROSBY, N.D. – The Public Service Commission pressed a pipeline company for details Monday about how it would detect spills in a proposed crude oil pipeline in northwest North Dakota.
Meadowlark Midstream, the company under investigation after a massive saltwater pipeline leak near Williston, is seeking permission from state regulators to proceed with a new project.
The company proposes to construct a 46-mile steel pipeline to carry oil from its pump station southeast of Fortuna to the Basin Transload Rail Facility southeast of Columbus.
The pipeline would initially carry 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day and could increase to 50,000 barrels per day, said John Millar, a vice president for Summit Midstream, the parent company of Meadowlark.
The rail facility, which ships Bakken crude to East Coast refineries, currently receives most of its shipments by truck, Millar said. The pipeline would not eliminate truck traffic, but it would reduce how far the trucks have to travel to get oil to the rail facility, he said.
Commissioners and staff with the PSC referenced Meadowlark’s recent saltwater pipeline break north of Williston that spilled nearly 3 million gallons of brine adjacent to Blacktail Creek. The Department of Mineral Resources and the North Dakota Department of Health are investigating the spill, the largest of its kind in state history.
The company has done a lot of work since that spill was discovered Jan. 6 to better prevent and detect spills, Millar said.
“We’re really focused on that right now, I can assure you,” Millar said.
The proposed crude pipeline would be equipped with technology so it could be remotely monitored around the clock from a control center in Texas, Millar said.
Block valves at each end of the pipeline could be controlled remotely from that operations center. The pipeline also would have six intermediate block valves that could be shut down manually, Millar said.
“You indicated that someone could get there very quickly. What’s very quickly?” asked Zack Pelham, legal counsel for the PSC.
Millar said the company has two staff members in Divide County with plans to add a third. He estimated they could likely respond in 15 minutes.
In addition, the pipeline would be monitored through aerial inspections every two weeks and routine foot patrols, Millar said.
Commission Chairwoman Julie Fedorchak asked the company to submit details about how many staff are dedicated to monitoring North Dakota pipelines from the Texas control center.
The PSC also took testimony from several members of the public. Evan Whiteford, a representative of the Great Lakes Organizing Committee of North Dakota/Minnesota Laborers’ union, testified about concerns he’s observed about the quality of the work in another Summit project.
Whiteford told commissioners the deficiencies he observed by another subcontractor made him question of quality of Summit’s environmental work.
Clint McKinney, who works for B&G Oilfield Service, testified that he’s worked for Summit on other projects and the company employs an environmental consultant to monitor that the work is up to par.
“They are cracking down,” McKinney said.
Fedorchak estimated the PSC would make a decision by mid-April. Meadowlark would like to begin construction on the $33 million project in May and estimates construction would take most of this year.
The PSC also is considering another application from Meadowlark for a smaller crude oil pipeline in Williams County.