Growing oil town calls rec center plans ‘as critical as streets’

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Leaders in this booming town say a $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center is key to keeping working families in the community.

If approved, the project would be funded with city sales taxes and a gross oil production tax loan program designed for critical city infrastructure.

Mayor Brent Sanford said the city is making the case that an indoor pool, event venue for up to 3,000 people, indoor walking track and other amenities are vital to attracting and retaining a workforce in Watford City.

“This is as critical as pipes and streets,” Sanford said. “If you don’t have it all, your community is not whole and you’re not a desirable place to live.”

Watford City, the county seat of the fastest-growing county in the country, doesn’t have enough facilities for the growing numbers of kids involved in hockey, gymnastics and other sports, Sanford said. The community has never had an indoor pool and adults don’t have space for recreation basketball or volleyball. Census estimates recently released put McKenzie County’s 2013 population at 9,314, not including temporary workers, a 46.5 percent increase since 2010.

Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Economic Development director, said community members have listed an indoor recreation center as a priority for years.

“The public has asked us to help occupy adults and youth, especially during the longer winter months,” Veeder said. “That’s one of the rubs you get in a small community that’s so remote, is ‘What am I going to do?’”

The proposed 240,700-square-foot facility would have an indoor pool, two sheets of ice for hockey and skating, three basketball courts, concert or event venue and conference rooms. It would be located east of Watford City adjacent to a new high school that voters overwhelmingly approved last month. The land was donated, Sanford said.

Residents will vote in June on a sales tax measure that would finance the events center, a new hospital and future community projects such as airport improvements, affordable housing and park facilities, Sanford said. Currently Watford City’s sales tax is 1 percent, which expires this year, and voters will decide whether to raise that to a total of 1.5 percent.

If approved, Watford City could borrow up to $20 million for the events center, using sales tax revenue to make the bond payments, Sanford said.

The city also can borrow up to $54 million from the Bank of North Dakota for critical city infrastructure projects, with repayment coming from the city’s share of state oil and gas gross production tax, Sanford said.

Watford City leaders are considering using half of the loan for the events center and the other half for a new sewage treatment plant, new roads, water towers and other infrastructure, Sanford said.

The gross production tax is what oil companies pay to the state in lieu of property taxes on oil and gas wells. Most of Watford City’s sales tax revenue comes from oil and gas activity, which is more heavily concentrated in McKenzie County than anywhere else in North Dakota.

“We’re going to look to leverage those business-based tax inflows and pay for something that residents have wanted for a long time,” Sanford said.

If voters approve the sales tax, the project would need to be presented to the local Roughrider Fund Committee and City Council for final approval, Sanford said.

Local leaders have lobbied for a larger share of the state’s oil tax revenue, and Sanford said they will continue to do so.

Veeder said he expects to hear from detractors who will criticize spending $56 million on an events center. But the center will be a “community-maker,” Veeder said, and getting families to stay in Watford City is critical to supporting the workforce needs.

Williston recently opened a $76 million recreation center, funded primarily through sales tax revenue, which leaders there say they hope will attract more families to town.

“People aren’t just workhorses, they need to have some things to do with their life,” Veeder said. “We think this will let them do that.”

New state rules call for leak-proof containers for filter socks

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, testifies to a legislative committee on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Minot, N.D., about the disposal of filter socks. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

BISMARCK – North Dakota announced new rules Wednesday for oilfield waste known as filter socks that aim to prevent the illegal stockpiles of the waste that have been turning up in remote corners of the Oil Patch.

Starting June 1, oil, gas and saltwater disposal wells will be required to have covered, leak-proof containers designated for disposal of filter socks, which are known to contain naturally occurring radioactive material.

The new permit requirement from the Oil and Gas Division of the Department of Mineral Resources will require the containers for saltwater disposal wells at all times. The containers will be required for oil and gas wells during the drilling and completion processes, the stages when filter socks are used.

Communities in western North Dakota have reported numerous incidents of illegal dumping of filter socks, including the recent discovery of an abandoned gas station in the Divide County town of Noonan where the waste was stockpiled.

Mountrail County Commissioner David Hynek told a legislative committee this week that the county recently paid for the disposal of 30 filter socks discovered on a township road near New Town.

“Something needs to be done about this issue, whether it’s having a severe enough penalty put in place to cause folks to rethink what they’re doing,” Hynek said Tuesday during a meeting of the Interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee in Minot.

The new requirement aims to promote compliance with state law, which requires the waste to be hauled out of state to appropriate landfills.

“It’s cutting down on that chance that someone will choose to dispose of it illegally,” said Alison Ritter, Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman.

Companies that don’t comply with the new requirement could face penalties, Ritter said.

The North Dakota Department of Health also is developing new rules related to disposal of radioactive waste generated in the oilfield. The department plans to announce proposed rules in June that relate to “cradle to grave” tracking requirements for the waste.

The health department also notified oil companies March 13 that they must use waste haulers licensed by the health department.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, told legislators this week that companies purchase a filter sock for $1.80 but need to pay between $180 to $600 to dispose of it in Texas or Idaho or another state that accepts the waste.

Ness said the state should adopt a method of handling the waste while holding companies accountable for illegal dumping.

“Let’s figure out a North Dakota solution for a North Dakota waste,” Ness told the committee.

The health department also has hired Argonne National Laboratory to study naturally occurring radioactive material generated in the oilfield, which is expected to guide an additional set of state rules related to the waste.

The estimated cost to clean up the abandoned filter socks in Noonan is about $12,600, which will be paid for by an Oil and Gas Division fund for abandoned oil and gas wells and site restoration.

The fund comes from oil and gas taxes, penalties from violations and fees collected by the Oil and Gas Division. The fund is capped at $75 million with $5 million available per year.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, vice chairman of the legislative committee that met this week, asked staff to prepare a bill draft that would increase the funding available. Porter suggested raising the cap of the fund to $150 million and making $10 million available per year for situations such as the abandoned waste in Noonan.

Farmers say land protections ‘failing miserably’

Farmer Darwin Peterson of rural Antler, N.D., testifies to the Legislature’s Interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Minot, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

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.”

State breaks ground on bypass projects

WILLISTON, N.D. – State officials celebrated the groundbreaking Tuesday of two bypass projects that will relieve traffic in Williston and Alexander in North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

Construction on a 13-mile permanent bypass around Williston will begin this spring. Final completion of the $162 million project is projected for 2015. The four-lane roadway, which will replace a temporary bypass that opened in August 2012, will help meet the forecasted traffic loads for the area.

Work is expected to be completed by fall of 2014 on a $28 million Alexander truck bypass. The 3.7-mile bypass will re-route U.S. Highway 85 to the west of Alexander.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple and North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi joined other state and local officials for ceremonial groundbreaking events Tuesday.

“We are committed to continuing to address the impacts of rapid growth in western North Dakota, and a key part of those efforts is to ensure that the region’s roadways are safe and the truck traffic on its main streets is reduced,” Dalrymple said in a statement.

Faces of the Boom: Family from Washington state grows attached to North Dakota

Carolynn Robinson, pictured Friday, April 4, 2014, near Powers Lake, N.D., works as an equipment operator for B&G Oilfield Services. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

POWERS LAKE, N.D. – When Carolynn Robinson and her husband moved from Washington state to North Dakota to work in the oilfields, they thought it would just be a summer gig.

But the move worked out so well, they decided to stay.

“We’re getting more and more attached to North Dakota,” said Robinson, who moved to the state about two years ago.

Lack of work in their home state prompted them to move to North Dakota.

Robinson’s husband, Travis, came to North Dakota first, and now works as a pipeline welder.

Robinson followed after budget cuts caused her to get laid off from her job with the U.S. Forest Service in Washington, where she operated equipment to clear logging roads.

Her job in North Dakota also involves running heavy equipment – which she has done for nearly 15 years – but now she works on oilfield locations.

“My skills have become more diversified and I’ve learned a lot,” said Robinson, who works for B&G Oilfield Services of Williston.

On Friday, Robinson was operating a backhoe and blade at oil well sites near Power Lake. She also installs pipeline, runs a bulldozer and does labor work, typically working six 12-hour days a week.

“I do a little bit of everything,” she said.

Robinson has female co-workers, but she’s the only female worker for B&G who operates heavy equipment. Throughout the Bakken, she’s noticed more women and families than she did her first year in North Dakota.

“I think word’s getting out that it’s not the wild, crazy oilfield like everybody has the interpretation that it is,” Robinson said. “It can be family-friendly, so wives and families are moving out.”

Robinson and her husband have six children, ranging in age from 10 to 21. Three of their children live with them in North Dakota, along with their oldest daughter’s husband, who also works in the Bakken.

They rented a couple of different places before finding their current home in Alexander, which is between Williston and Watford City and a convenient location for their jobs. Finding a place large enough was challenging until their 10-year-old son learned his friend was moving away, which opened up a house in town.

Rent is expensive, but they’re able to afford it with two oilfield salaries.

“We’ve been fortunate out here. It’s given us the ability to get ahead,” Robinson said. “Back home we were struggling and out here it’s much easier.”

Robinson said it was difficult to move away from their extended family in Washington, but now many other relatives are following them to pursue North Dakota job opportunities.

The family spends a lot of time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and enjoyed ice fishing for the first time this year. They still have their home in Washington and planned to return, but now they’re thinking they might not move back until retirement.

“For right now, we’re getting comfortable and enjoying everything North Dakota has to offer,” Robinson said.

Refineries gaining steam, but capacity would be ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to N.D. output

WILLISTON, N.D. – While the United States hasn’t seen a new refinery in more than 30 years, North Dakota has five refineries proposed that range from planning stages to active construction.

Some of the projects have long been on the drawing board, but with MDU Resources constructing its refinery near Dickinson, the others could be closer to reality, said the head of North Dakota’s oil industry trade group.

“Having one under construction is encouraging more third parties to look at it,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “I’m sure people are going to be watching that and trying to figure out if they can replicate that model. We’ll take them all.”

North Dakota is expected to hit a milestone this year of producing 1 million barrels of oil per day, but refinery capacity is 68,000 barrels at the Tesoro refinery in Mandan, requiring the rest to be transported out of the state.

Meanwhile, the state’s demand for diesel is about double what the Mandan refinery produces, and projected to keep climbing.

Refining more crude oil in North Dakota means less oil will need leave the state by rail or pipeline.

But the difference in transportation likely won’t be noticeable even if all five refineries are constructed, said Sandy Fielden, managing director of energy analytics at consultant firm RBN Energy.

Each refinery would process 20,000 barrels of oil per day, and the byproducts would still need to be transported for further refining. A unit train transports about 65,000 to 70,000 barrels of oil, with North Dakota currently sending about 10 unit trains out of the state each day.

“These refineries are tiny. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to production,” Fielden said. “It’s not going to make much difference.”

– Dickinson: MDU Resources and partner Calumet Specialty Products LP are constructing the Dakota Prairie Refinery between Dickinson and South Heart, projected to be online by the end of the year.

The refinery will process 20,000 barrels of oil per day to produce about 7,000 barrels of diesel per day.

There is room for four to eight similar refineries in North Dakota before the state would export diesel, said Neil Amondson, vice president for NorthStar Transloading, a partner in the latest refinery proposal publicly announced.

– East Fairview: Quantum Energy Inc. acquired land from NorthStar in East Fairview to construct a 20,000 barrel-per-day refinery west of Watford City near the Montana border. The refinery would be next to the NorthStar rail facility that is set to be under construction this month. Construction of the refinery, expected to take about two years, could begin as early as this summer if the project receives approval from the local township board and an air permit from the state, Amondson said.

– Makoti: Phase one of construction is underway on the Fort Berthold Reservation for the MHA Nation Clean Fuels Refinery near Makoti, which involves construction of a rail loading facility.

The rail facility is expected to be complete in September, said Richard Mayer, CEO of Thunder Butte Petroleum Services, which was established by the Tribal Business Council and operates the facility.

Final completion of the refinery is projected for summer or fall of 2016, Mayer said. The refinery is expected to process 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day.

– Trenton: Dakota Oil Processing proposes a 20,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Trenton, a project that has been in the planning stages since 2007.

CEO Steve Schneider said the company is working to finalize a partnership arrangement and could break ground on a refinery this spring. The location is still under review by the Williams County Commission.

“We’re in the final stages of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Schneider said. “It’s a very difficult task from announcement to execution.”

– Devils Lake: Michigan-based American Energy Holdings announced late last year it was considering a 20,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Devils Lake that would produce diesel and aviation fuel.

Devils Lake economic development representatives continue to be in discussions with American Energy Holdings, but no agreements have been reached, said Rachel Lindstrom, executive director of Forward Devils Lake.

A representative from American Eagle Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.

An air quality permit from the North Dakota Department of Health is required before refineries can be constructed. The department granted a permit for the Dickinson refinery, but does not have pending applications for any others, said Craig Thorstenson, with the health department’s Air Quality Division.

The department had issued a permit for a Trenton refinery, but it expired and company officials have not yet applied for a new permit, Thorstenson said. He estimated that it takes four to six months for the permit application to be processed.

The state health department does not have jurisdiction over tribal lands.

Building refineries in North Dakota makes sense economically, given the amount of crude oil in and the demand for diesel, Fielden said. But the costs for several of the projects are estimated in the $250 million to $350 million range.

“They’re quite large investments, so the investors in those kinds of infrastructure typically are pretty concerned to make sure there’s good demand for the output,” Fielden said.

The last major refinery built in the lower 48 states of the United States began operating in 1977 in Garyville, La., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Ness said he’s not aware of new refineries being discussed in other states.

“The only place I hear any discussion about this is North Dakota,” Ness said.

Study of oil from deadly derailment points to Bakken crude’s volatility; more research is on the way

WILLISTON, N.D. – On July 6 last year, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota to a refinery in eastern Canada was left parked on a hillside in Quebec. It rolled backward down the hill, derailing and crashing into a small town, with railcars bursting into flames, killing 47 people.

While investigators pointed early on to the train’s brakes, the violent explosions prompted Canadian officials to question the volatility of the Bakken crude.

The crude oil that train carried had volatility similar to gasoline, said Sylvie Dionne, author of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s laboratory report published last month on samples taken from the train.

The oil had a low flash point, which indicates it would ignite at low temperatures, and a high vapor pressure, which indicates how readily the oil would ignite at the temperature that was prevailing at the time of the derailment, Dionne said.

“Those two conditions together explain why it caught fire so easily,” said Dionne, manager for materials analysis and structures at the TSB. “The large amounts of it, because there were many tank cars and some of them released product, that explains why the fireball is so large.”

Other factors that contributed to the fireball were the rapid rate of release and the oil’s low viscosity, the report found.

The crude oil tested also had a low boiling point, the report said. The low flash point, low boiling point and high vapor pressure suggest the samples contained very light hydrocarbons, the report said.

“The lighter the hydrocarbons that are present in the crude, the more volatile it’s going to be,” Dionne said.

Questions about the volatility of the Bakken crude would come up again with other explosive derailments, including the one near Casselton on Dec. 30.

“We had no idea it was this volatile,” Casselton Fire Chief Tim McClean said in an interview last month, the same day he testified to a congressional committee about responding to the fiery derailment.

A federal study and a study commissioned by the North Dakota Petroleum Council are underway to analyze the characteristics of Bakken crude, but the results are not yet available.

“Bakken crude is comparable to other light sweet crudes according to all the information we have to date, but we know that some have questioned whether it is somehow different,” said Kari Cutting, vice president for the NDPC. “This study will provide a thorough third-party analysis to help regulators and industry determine the facts so we can make decisions based on sound science.”


Canadian investigation

The Canadian report may underestimate the volatility of the crude oil because some of the light hydrocarbons may have evaporated, Dionne said.

The engineering laboratory report analyzed samples from nine non-derailed tank at the end of the train and two tank cars from a different unit train that was transporting crude oil from the same origin in the Bakken.

Other findings include:

– There were multiple sources of ignition at the derailment site, such as damaged power lines.

– The Bakken crude analyzed had characteristics similar to other light, sweet crude oils.

– There was no indication that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing affected the crude oil.

– The crude had a low sulfur content. Portable detectors used to measure hydrogen sulfide gas during the response did not detect the gas, which is extremely flammable and toxic.

While the report tests many characteristics of the Bakken crude, its scope was limited to the derailment and the Lac-Megantic investigation.

“It’s only applicable to the Bakken crude that was on that train,” Dionne said.

The Transportation Safety Board’s final investigative report on the derailment is still pending.


Industry study

The North Dakota Petroleum Council recently announced it is doing its own study, a Bakken quality assurance study to help ensure public safety and consistent product quality.

The industry group is working with Dallas-based consultant Turner, Mason & Company and an independent commercial laboratory to study the range and variability of Bakken crude oil qualities.

“There’s a lot of independent sampling going on right now,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “You need to do it across the entire specific areas of the Bakken, so it’s not just a point A or point B.”

The consultant will take multiple samples from 12 locations and six rail depots in North Dakota and Montana, including samples from newer wells and more mature wells.

“We haven’t done this particular type of study and I don’t know that anybody has to be honest with you,” John Auers, executive vice president of Turner, Mason and Co. and head of the study, said in a recent interview.

A progress report on the study will be given in May at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, and results of the study will be shared with PHMSA and the American Petroleum Institute.

“This whole issue of rail and crude has brought that out,” Auers said. “In reality, Bakken isn’t a whole lot different than a lot of other light crudes.”


Federal response

Days after the train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded near Casselton, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert indicating that Bakken crude may be more flammable than other types of oil.

Inspectors from PHMSA and the Federal Railroad Administration have been examining the chemical properties of Bakken crude through unannounced spot inspections and data collections.

Based on preliminary findings, PHMSA and FRA expanded the investigation to include bottom sediment and water, true vapor pressure, hydrogen sulfide, concentration limits of flammability and corrosiveness to steel and aluminum.

The results have not yet been released.

PHMSA issued an emergency order that requires crude oil shipments to be designated as Packing Group I or II, requiring the oil to be shipped in stronger rail cars.

PHMSA has proposed $93,000 in fines against three companies the agency says failed to properly classify Bakken crude. The agency’s legal counsel is reviewing responses from the three companies, a PHMSA spokesman said.

In January, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the Casselton derailment, issued recommendations to PHMSA and the FRA.

One recommendation would require trying to avoid shipping hazardous materials though populated and sensitive areas. A second recommendation is to ensure rail carriers can handle the worst-case scenarios of a hazardous materials accident. A third recommendation called for checking on shippers and rail carriers to ensure they are properly classifying hazardous materials and have adequate safety and security plans.

“If unit trains of flammable liquids are going to be part of our nation’s energy future, we need to make sure the hazardous materials classification is accurate, the route is well planned, and the tank cars are as robust as possible,” NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at the time.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said it’s important to get the results of the PHMSA study to inform regulations. While many are now saying that Bakken crude is more flammable, Heitkamp said she wants to see the results of the study.

“I suspect that might be true, but until I see test results, I’m going to withhold judgment,” she said.

Heitkamp said she wants the PHMSA study to be thorough, but hopes to see results within weeks.

“We need to move forward on regulation,” she said.

Mobile clinics planned by Sanford currently illegal in Williston

WILLISTON, N.D. – Sanford Health plans to bring two multimillion-dollar mobile clinics to the Bakken to meet health care needs, but right now they would not be legal in Williston.

The Williston City Commission has a moratorium on any new mobile businesses until city leaders can establish planning and zoning guidelines for them.

The city implemented a six-month moratorium last fall and recently extended it through September while the issue is studied by a committee, said Nick Vasuthawawat, code compliance officer for Williston.

That moratorium would apply to a new Sanford initiative announced last week that aims to bring health care services to oil industry workers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. The effort, called O.P.C. mobileMed, will include two clinics on wheels that will cater to oil companies and their subsidiaries.

“Under the current moratorium, they wouldn’t be (permitted) because they weren’t officially recognized as a pre-existing mobile operation,” Vasuthawawat said.

But the City Commission could lift that moratorium any time, said Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk, who is on the committee studying the issue.

“Those aren’t the people we’re after,” Cymbaluk said of Sanford. “It’s the guy selling blankets taking up the corner. Those are the ones that need some serious parameters put around them.”

Williston has seen an increase in mobile businesses wanting to operate in the city, such as mobile coffee vendors or mobile tool shops, Cymbaluk said. City leaders are discussing guidelines to govern mobile businesses and potential fees to support city services and even the playing field with “brick and mortar” business owners, he said.

Cymbaluk said he hopes the committee can meet and develop the guidelines soon so the moratorium could be lifted earlier than September.

Sanford’s new initiative will launch in Watford City, likely in June, with future locations determined based on oil companies that request the services, said Stephanie Murdock, Sanford’s enterprise vice president of corporate occupational medicine services.

A request has not been made for a mobile unit to go to Williston, Murdock said. If that happens, Sanford will work with city leaders, she said.

The project, which also involves a modular clinic in Watford City, is costing Sanford an initial investment of $2.7 million along with $4.8 million in annual operating expenses.

The mobile clinics will provide work- and non-work-related health care services, such as employment physicals and care for sore throats, coughs and other illnesses. Sanford also will do lab work and X-rays, and provide access to telemedicine, emergency transportation or referrals for advanced injuries.

Williston has a mobile veterinary clinic that is exempted from the moratorium because it operated before leaders began discussing a new ordinance. A mobile chiropractic clinic also was exempted, but the owner left town last fall, citing frustrations with the city. The city previously established a ban on food trucks.

Public Service Commission to review proposed gas plant expansion

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing April 10 regarding a proposed expansion of a natural gas plant near New Town.

Whiting Oil and Gas Corp. proposes expanding its Robinson Lake Gas Plant, about eight miles northeast of New Town, to meet the growing demand for natural gas processing in the region. The plant, constructed in 2007, has been modified and redesigned to process gas produced by Whiting and other companies in the region.

Whiting proposes to expand the plant’s capacity above 100 million cubic feet per day, which is a threshold that requires Public Service Commission siting. The proposed expansion would occur within the fenced boundaries of the current facility.

The hearing is at 10 a.m. April 10 at the Mountrail County South Complex, 8103 61st St. N.W., Stanley.

Meeting set to gather input on reducing gas flaring

BISMARCK – A special hearing is set for April 22 to provide input on reducing natural gas flaring to the Oil and Gas Division of the state Department of Mineral Resources.

The input gathered at the one-day hearing, as well as through written comments that can be submitted, will be considered as the North Dakota Industrial Commission moves forward with a newly adopted plan to reduce flaring.

The Industrial Commission’s goals are to reduce the volume of natural gas that is flared, reduce the number of wells that are flaring and reduce the duration of flaring from wells.

Commission members will consider revising rules that relate to curtailing oil production from the Bakken and Three Forks if flaring guidelines aren’t met. Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said last month the rules are outdated and not being enforced as companies are being granted exemptions.

The hearing will be at 9 a.m. April 22 at the Department of Mineral Resources, 1000 E. Calgary Ave., Bismarck. Written comments may be submitted to through 5 p.m. April 21.

The department is seeking constructive comments about curbing flaring, said Alison Ritter, department spokeswoman.

“We want to make sure there is some testimony that would provide technical solutions,” Ritter said.

The department is seeking input on questions such as:

– What length of time should wells be allowed to produce at their maximum rate while flaring natural gas? Currently, most field rules allow a well to produce at its maximum rate for 60 days while flaring, and then restrict production according to a schedule after each additional 60 days.

“Typically, operators do seek an extension from that, and most of the time they are granted that extension because of infrastructure constraints,” Ritter said.

– What restrictions are appropriate for wells that are flaring but are connected to gas-gathering lines or when some of the gas is being used for a beneficial use?

– Should restrictions be adjusted for well economics? For example, if one operator is capturing 95 percent of its gas but it’s not economical to connect one well to gas-gathering lines, should special consideration be given to that operator or that region, Ritter said. If flaring restrictions were fully enforced, curtailing oil production would be damaging to the state revenue as well as private mineral owners, Ritter said.

The commission also will consider changing how it grants administrative approval of exemptions from the flaring rules and rules for wells that are not connected to gas-gathering lines or a beneficial use.

North Dakota flared 36 percent of its natural gas in January, but regulators say that figure was higher than usual because Hess Corp.’s Tioga gas plant had been offline since Thanksgiving. In October, before the plant went offline, 28 percent of gas was flared.

The steps adopted by the Industrial Commission should help the state reduce the percentage of natural gas being flared to 5 percent by 2020, Helms said last month.

More information about the commission’s new flaring policy can be found at