MINOT, N.D. – Darwin Peterson is the third member of what he hopes is a fifth-generation farm.
But the Bottineau County man worries about the quality of land he’ll be able to pass on to his grandson after it was damaged by saltwater, a byproduct of oil development, when a pipeline ruptured in 2011.
Peterson told a legislative committee Tuesday this will be the third season he’s unable to plant on the cropland that was affected by the spill, and remediation efforts by the company responsible have had limited results.
“It’s been too little and way too late,” Peterson said of the remediation.
The Legislature’s Interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee met all day Tuesday in Minot and heard about two hours of testimony from farmers and ranchers who suffered saltwater damage to their lands related to oil development. The damage ranged from salt that leached from brine ponds dating back to the 1950s to a pipeline spill that occurred last August.
Peterson, who lives near Antler, said the state should develop and enforce remediation procedures and standards to protect farmland.
“Quality water, air and the preservation of our lands can coexist with the development of our oil reserves,” Peterson said.
Pete Artz, who testified on behalf of his brother, Mike Artz, who had a saltwater pipeline spill last August on his land in Bottineau County, said landowners need better protections from the state. His brother has been left with huge financial losses but no offer of compensation, Artz said.
“The system we have in place is failing miserably,” Artz said.
New oil and gas rules that took effect April 1 give the state oversight over saltwater lines and other pipelines that didn’t exist before, Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said during a break in the meeting.
Landowners had pushed for additional rules, including gauges on saltwater lines to detect leaks.
Helms said that typical pipeline monitoring systems would not be effective for saltwater lines. He said a pipeline that carries 1,000 barrels of saltwater a day would have to be leaking 240 barrels a day before the technology would detect the leak.
“It doesn’t seem to be a realistic solution,” said Helms, who attended the meeting but was not asked to testify.
Paul Lohn, president of Pipeline Controls LP, traveled from Texas to testify to the committee about relatively new fiber optic technology that can detect anomalies in a pipeline. The technology can detect a change in temperature, which occurs when a pipeline begins to leak, and can detect a sound that indicates a pipeline is leaking, Lohn said.
Lohn estimated that the technology costs $300,000 a mile to install in a new pipeline. However, installing the system for existing pipelines would likely be cost-prohibitive, he said.
Some speakers testified that companies responsible for spills had not been fined or given penalties. Helms said the enforcement process to levy a fine or other penalty can take years to work through the legal system.
“A lot of what these folks are frustrated with is there isn’t instant justice,” Helms said.
Bob Grant of Berthold, a board member with the Northwest Landowners Association, said saltwater damage “is the death of the land,” and the state should implement the latest scientific knowledge in reclamation.
“I think it’s time that we make sure that we do it right. We need to have land here for future generations,” Grant said. “We’ve been pretty poor in the past, the way it looks to me.”
Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, an agricultural consultant and a committee member, testified that there is technology that could better define an area that was affected by a saltwater spill. Nelson also said there are remediation techniques involving drain tile and flooding the affected area with water that have not been done in the state.
Researchers from the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University gave committee members an update about a broad Bakken study. The work now includes soil scientists and range scientists from NDSU studying spill remediation and land reclamation.
Committee members said they plan to continue discussing land protections issues and collecting more information, including assessing the current level of fines the state can impose for oil and gas violations.
“There’s a lot yet to work on,” said committee chairman Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. “We want to stop that kind of stuff from happening going forward.”