CCNRD responds to Oneok’s letter to the County Commissioners

By Sarah Pridgeon

Crook County Natural Resources District (CCNRD) has responded to Oneok’s letter to the County Commissioners earlier this month, in which the company indicated it had answered concerns over the Bakken Pipeline and would be moving ahead with construction. CCNRD, however, does not believe that all concerns have been adequately addressed.

Road permits meanwhile remain outstanding for construction and, says Commissioner Jim Hadley, may or may not be granted at next week’s commissioners’ meeting.

The CCNRD requested on July 16 that the Crook County Commissioners incorporate a number of concerns into their agreement with Oneok, in order to protect the natural resources of the county. The list of concerns, explains CCNRD, represents an evaluation of queries from local stakeholders.

“CCNRD’s involvement first began when landowners affected by the proposed pipeline approached us requesting technical assistance with natural resource concerns generated by both the construction and subsequent operation of the pipeline,” the CCNRD letter states. “[The intention was] to provide landowners and the Crook County Commissioners with a more complete understanding of the possible environmental consequences, impacts to the Madison Aquifer, regulatory requirements, leak detection levels and reporting and surface damage mitigation plans associated with both the construction and operation of the proposed Bakken Pipeline.”

Information was gathered, says CCNRD, from many sources, including the Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Office of Pipeline Safety, United States Geological Survey, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Wyoming Pipeline Authority, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Wyoming Water Development Commission, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Oneok itself.

“The conservation district is elected by the voters and answers to them, not us,” explains Commissioner Hadley. “They act as advisors and have no statutory authority over the pipeline. I don’t always agree with them, but they do bring us excellent information and they do a great job.”

Oneok answered each individual concern in a letter to the commissioners from Wes Christensen, Senior Vice President of Operations. The first concern was that all inspection records be supplied to the commissioners and affected landowners within 48 hours of completion of inspection, to which Oneok explained that, as PHMSA does not require the company to provide operation inspection results, the company cannot commit to meeting this condition.

CCNRD asks in response, “Even if PHMSA does not require this, but Oneok has the inspection documents, why can’t they provide the documents to the county?”

The second concern was that all enforcement actions and notices of violation be supplied to the commissioners within 24 hours upon issuance to the Pipeline Operating Agency. Oneok’s letter pointed out that incident records are available for review on the PHMSA website at any time, at

CCNRD responds to this by commenting, “Violations or fines are not solely distributed from PHMSA; therefore, the CCNRD feels it is important that Crook County be aware of any and all enforcement actions, notices of violation or fines that are charged to Oneok. If the documents are already established, why can’t you provide them to the county?”

CCNRD’s third concern was that dust suppression and deicing products used and rates of application be supplied to the commissioners and affected landowners. Oneok responded to this by stating that the company had already agreed to a prior request not to use products containing chloride and, as such, feels that monthly reporting is “unnecessarily burdensome;” nevertheless, Oneok did agree to notify Road & Bridge prior to using commercial products for these purposes.

In response, CCNRD expresses appreciation for Oneok’s “attention and solution” to the concern, and comments that “hopefully products used and rates of application will be provided.”

Oneok’s response to the fourth concern brought forward by CCNRD – that independent third party water quality monitoring be conducted on impacted surface and ground waters at the company’s expense – was that the company has offered to test existing wells and springs within 100 feet of the pipeline prior to and/or following construction. “Oneok’s commitment goes above the CCNRD recommendation in that it is not limited to waters impacted by construction or operation,” said the letter.

CCNRD replies that, “Water quality sampling and analysis should be pre- and post-construction, otherwise there is no comparative data, and needs to include both surface and groundwater. Water should be tested for all constituents that are or could be associated with this project.”

Regarding CCNRD’s concern that emergency management and the commissioners be notified immediately regarding all levels of leaks, Oneok responded in its letter that the company will follow already established incident reporting and notification processes, including immediate notification to the National Response Center and subsequent notification to local emergency response officials, as well as 911 calls.

“We have also been engaged with the Crook County Emergency Management Coordinator regarding those notifications and our Public Awareness Plan,” said the letter.

“According to Oneok’s July 31 letter to the commissioners, the immediate notification applies only to certain incidences,” points out CCNRD, requesting that Oneok contact emergency management and the commissioners with any natural resource incident.

The sixth concern addressed by Oneok was that an inspection/response employee be stationed in Sundance to provide monthly reports to emergency management. The company explained that two operations personnel have been hired in the vicinity – one in Spearfish and the other in Buffalo, the latter of whom has expressed a desire to relocate to Sundance.

“We appreciate Oneok’s intent to station an employee within an efficient response time,” comments the CCNRD.

In response to the concern that additional shut-off valves be located immediately before and after perennial streams and detailed maps be provided to emergency management, Oneok commented in its letter that the company has committed to installing an additional valve and relocating another to facilitate isolation of the pipeline between perennial streams, and to providing information to emergency management.

“Oneok’s minimum leak detection threshold is seven gallons per minute,” responds CCNRD. “Thus, the CCNRD believes there should be additional shut-off valves. In addition, and according to the Code of Federal Regulations, valve locations need to be installed on the suction end and discharge end of a pump station in a manner that permits isolation of the pump station equipment in the event of an emergency. The CCNRD feels that current valve placement does not meet this federal regulation.”

The final concern put forward by CCNRD was that additional shut-off valves be placed within geologically unstable areas. Oneok responded to this request by explaining that valve locations were evaluated with Commissioner Jeannie Whalen on July 16 and a table was provided on July 31 to the commissioner, satisfying this concern.

“We appreciate Oneok’s efforts,” responds CCNRD, “But we maintain that additional shut-off valves be located in geologically unstable areas.”

In conclusion, CCNRD encourages Oneok to “go above and beyond the minimum standards [of the U.S Code of Federal Regulations] and help Crook County protect our land and sustain the integrity of our natural resources.”

“We had a laundry list of needs and Oneok met them all and we still didn’t release the road permits,” adds Commissioner Hadley. “Commissioner Jeannie Whalen met with them and made more demands, which they also met. They jumped through all our hoops and still no permits were granted. I don’t know why, or if they will be granted at the next meeting.”

Oneok will meet with the commissioners to request road permits be granted at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 4. Additional information about CCNRD’s research is available at the CCNRD office and can be obtained on request.