Letter to the Editor from Judith Bush – July 26

The Crook County Commissioners are considering signing off on ONEOK’s Bakken Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) Pipeline through Crook County in spite of four professional reports, together stating that more study is needed, that sinkholes and landslides pose a potential threat to the integrity of the pipeline, that there is a safer pipeline route available through Crook County, as well as the clearly stated view of a pipeline safety expert that the pipeline route through Crook County is unsafe, questions the ability of an emergency response to meet federal requirements, poses a threat to water should a release of NGLs occur over a karst aquifer, and needs to be rerouted. The CCNRD has also recommended the rerouting of the pipeline.

Landowners have repeatedly suggested the Commissioners tour the proposed route of the Bakken Pipeline where it is routed through the geological hazards described herein. So far the commissioners have not taken the landowners up on this offer.

Information regarding this pipeline has been overshadowed in the past by news of the Keystone Pipeline and many people are unaware of this project.

The ONEOK Bakken NGL Pipeline, currently proposed, will carry natural gas liquids from Sydney, Montana, south through eastern Wyoming into Colorado. It will cross areas in Crook County overlain by the Spearfish Formation, through gypsum karst, karst aquifers, sinkholes and areas prone to landslide. The presence of sinkholes opens up the possibility of irreparable contamination of karst water aquifers. Additionally, CCNRDs in South Dakota are becoming concerned that the pipeline as routed poses a threat to the Belle Fourche watershed.

ONEOK did not perform due diligence prior to laying out the unsafe route of the Bakken pipeline through the area of Crook County fraught with geological hazards posing a threat to the integrity of the pipeline. ONEOK is arguing that (for financial reasons) it is too late to alter their plans now.

Affected landowners, who were the first to see the absurdity of siting the pipeline through lands which they knew firsthand to contain gypsum karst, sinkholes, unstable ground and areas of landslides, have to date initiated three separate professional reports documenting the fragile and dangerous route that ONEOK has chosen. One report recommended further study was needed. Another report pointed out there was a safer alternative route through Crook County. The third report stated categorically that the pipeline needed to be rerouted.

Most components of NGLs (which include propane, ethane, butane, natural gasoline…) are heavier-than-air, highly volatile gases at normal atmospheric pressure and temperatures. Some of the heavier components of the mixture are liquids. All are transported through the pipeline as a liquid under 1440 psi of pressure. NGLs are classified by PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the DOT) as a hazardous liquid.

The pipeline proposes to carry ~ 60,000 barrels of NGLs per day at start-up. Additional pump stations will be added, allowing the capacity of the pipeline to nearly double in the future.

This April, ONEOK announced its plans to construct a second pipeline, the Bakken Crude Express, alongside the Bakken NGL Pipeline. This pipeline will transport 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day through Crook County, crossing the same areas containing the Spearfish Formation, sinkholes, gypsum karst and karst aquifers, and areas of unstable soil prone to landslide as ONEOK’s Bakken NGL Pipeline.

With respect to the Bakken NGL Pipeline, ONEOK has informed our Crook County Natural Resource District that it is able to detect a leak as small as 10 barrels per hour. That’s 420 gallons of NGLs per hour that get past ONEOK’s leak detection system.

ONEOK has consistently informed our county commissioners that residents had no reason to fear that the NGLs being transported could enter our water table, stating that, were a breach of the pipeline to occur, all NGLs released into the environment would vaporize.

The most recent expert opinion commissioned by landowners was carried out by a pipeline safety expert with forty years of hands-on experience. His report made clear that in the event of a spill, while this would result in the formation of a vapor cloud (a highly volatile vapor cloud which a tiny spark could ignite), should a breach of the pipeline occur over a karst aquifer, some of the NGLs (portions of the natural gasoline component of the NGL mixture) would wind up in the aquifer, and that the damage incurred would travel rapidly through the karst aquifer and would be virtually irreparable.

Landowners have to date initiated three expert opinions, the first from Seth Wittke, a project geologist with the Wyoming State Geological Survey, the second from Dr. Perry Rahn, professor emeritus with SDSMT, a doctor of geology with an additional degree in engineering, with forty years of expertise in matters concerning the geology and hydrology of this region. The third report was written by Richard Kuprewicz, the pipeline safety expert noted above. Mr. Kuprewicz has decades of hands-on experience and has been appointed by the Secretary of Transportation to serve on the federal Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, a technical committee established by Congress to advise the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) on pipeline regulations. All of these reports have been submitted to the Crook County Commissioners.

A fourth expert opinion was initiated by the county from Edward S. Scott, P.E., Consolidated Engineers, Inc. Mr. Scott is the Contract Engineer for Crook County. His report was a preliminary report dealing which circumstances in which the formation or expansion of an existing sinkhole could result in a breach of the pipeline. The report stated that more specific data from ONEOK would be required to complete an in depth analysis. The county decided not to consult further with Mr. Scott in the matter of the ONEOK Bakken Pipeline.

ONEOK has avoided crossing any federal land along the proposed route. Crossing federal land would have involved FERC and triggered a comprehensive environmental assessment.

ONEOK has produced three reports to date, all in reaction to expert opinions initiated by landowners and the county.

An April 27, 2012, report signed by ONEOK’s project manager, Bob Eberts, contains nearly verbatim the same wording regarding geological hazards not posing sufficient risk to preclude proceeding with the pipeline project as proposed as is contained in the Ground Engineering report dated June 22, 2012.

A June 13, 2012, report from Spartan Engineering responds to Mr. Scott’s June 1, 2012, report. Different parameters used in calculations make it difficult to a non-engineer to compare these reports. ONEOK’s pipeline is only half as thick as was assumed by Mr. Scott. Soil angle of friction was less in ONEOK’s report. Engineering aspects of this pipeline need to be assessed by an independent third party expert. All engineering reports to date have dealt with the pipeline’s ability to remain intact in the event that a sinkhole were to open up. It has been acknowledged that a landslide has the potential to wipe the pipeline out.

ONEOK was made aware in February of 2012 that Dr. Rahn would be evaluating its pipeline project from a geological standpoint, and commissioned (through Spartan Engineering, a Tulsa-based company as is ONEOK – the relationship between ONEOK and Spartan is unclear) a geological hazards reconnaissance of the lands along the proposed pipeline route in Crook County extending south from I-90 to almost Newcastle.

This report, undertaken by Ground Engineering, Inc. and dated June 22, 2012, did not include lands along the route of the pipeline through Crook County located north of I-90. The same geological hazards pose threats to the integrity of the Bakken Pipeline in this area of Crook County as well. Threats to water may be more severe along the portion of the pipeline route between the Moskee and Aladdin exits and then up to Aladdin in the vicinity of and west of HWY 111.

Landowners who commissioned Dr. Rahn’s study happen to live south of I-90. These were the lands containing gypsum karst and sinkholes which they were able to show him. Dr. Rahn’s report makes clear that the areas containing geological hazards does not stop at the southern border of I-90.

The Ground Engineering report, entitled “Geological Hazards Reconnaissance- The Bakken Natural Gas Liquids Pipeline” is essentially what its title suggests – an identification and mapping of existing geological hazards along the route of the pipeline plus a statistical risk analysis of the likelihood of sinkholes emerging and/or enlarging, or landslides occurring along the route of the Bakken NGL Pipeline in the future.

The risk assessment appears to span a period of twenty years into the future, although the pipeline may remain in use for double that time, during which time the condition of the pipeline will presumably deteriorate.

The report consists of a nine page report, geological maps of the area, aerial photography, and a comparative risk assessment along the proposed route of the pipeline using two sets of date (dated 1994 and 2009 respectively) to extrapolate how many new or expanded sinkholes might be expected to form during the next twenty years. It contains 48 photos of existing sinkholes and landslide areas.

As previously mentioned the report is limited in scope in that it failed to assess lands along the proposed route of the pipeline route which area located north of I-90.

Excerpts from Ground Engineering’s June 22, 2012 report.

“Concerns have been raised because of the potential geologic hazards along the alignment about pipeline integrity, leakage and associated contamination, and the safety of nearby residents. The proposed pipe alignment traverses areas of potential geologic hazards and there is a risk of damage to the pipeline from those hazards. However, in our opinion, those potential hazards are not of sufficient magnitude to preclude pipeline construction provided that appropriate remedial measures are incorporated into pipeline design, construction and maintenance plans. This is particularly the case because the hazard features have been located prior to construction. Therefore, approximate remediation can be incorporated into project planning. We are aware of examples of similar high-pressure pipelines that have been installed in comparable challenging conditions.

“This report has been prepared for Spartan Engineering as it pertains to identification of potential geologic hazards along a portion of the proposed Bakken natural gas liquids pipeline as described herein. It may not contain sufficient information for other parties or other purposes In addition, GROUND has assumed that project construction will commence by summer, 2012. Changes in project plans of schedule should be brought to the attention of an engineering geologist, in order that the conclusions herein may be re-evaluated and, as necessary, modified…

“…Our conclusions were dependent on the limited amount of direct evidence obtained at the time of this study…

“…GROUND makes no warranties, either express or implied as to the professional data, opinions or recommendations contained herein.”


Risk assessment is a risky business and geological hazards such as the formation of new sinkholes, the expansion of existing sinkholes, and landslide events are unpredictable. It is noteworthy that this report, implying a low risk of geological hazards impacting the integrity of the pipeline for a period of twenty years into the future, would contain a caveat that a delay in the construction of the pipeline of more than ~ one week from the date of the report itself could render the report inaccurate.

ONEOK is proceeding on the basis of the recommendations contained in this report. ONEOK has been proceeding with construction of its pipeline in areas of Weston County where geological hazards have been mapped prior to June 22, 2012, having been completed.

Given the disclaimer that Ground Engineering felt necessary to insert into its June 22, 2012, report in order to protect itself, the county, in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, should be commissioning expert opinions to evaluate both the accuracy and the completeness of reports submitted by ONEOK. These should include both geological and engineering aspects of this proposed pipeline.

County Attorney, Joe Baron, in a legal report dated July 17, 2012, makes the point that the Bakken NGL Pipeline will produce considerable tax revenue both for the county and the state. He points out that the land tax revenue from the pipeline will equal ~ half of the tax revenue in Crook County attributable to that brought in with respect to agricultural lands. His report does not mention that the tax revenue will be the same, regardless of whether or not the pipeline is moved to a safer location within Crook County.

The same legal report states that if Crook County declines to sign its road use agreement with ONEOK (the only hold which the county has over this project as proposed) the company will sue the county for condemnation and predicts that the county will lose if the case goes to court. It is demonstrable that ONEOK did not perform due diligence in the siting of this pipeline. This circumstance is not noted in Mr. Baron’s legal opinion.

Governor’s Office

Although both landowners and the county have contracted the governor’s office, Governor Mead has been unresponsive with respect to this matter.

Chairman Hadley stated at the beginning of the ONEOK portion of the July 16, 2012, Commissioners meeting that he was ready to sign off on the ONEOK Bakken Pipeline Project.

Commissioner Dennis stated at the April 4, 2012, Crook County Commissioners Meeting that the ONEOK Pipeline belonged over with other pipelines in the county.

Commissioner Whalen and the CCNRD have worked tirelessly to try to bring the details of proposed Pipeline Project to light.

ONEOK violations in the past. CCNRD provided the county attorney and commissioners with information regarding ONEOK’s safety record between 2005 and 2011. On June 26, 2012, Crook County Attorney, Joe Baron, wrote Art Bohmeyer, ONEOK, requiring that ONEOK come to the July 3, 2012, Crook County Commissioners meeting prepared to explain past violations of the company. Nevertheless, according to the county records relating to the Bakken Pipeline, OKNOK has never been asked to explain past violations, which include an 11,822 barrel release of NGLs in 2008, and a 19,911 barrel release of NGLs in 2010 and a 2,345 barrel release of NGLs in 2011.

Public Meetings

A well attended landowners meeting open to the public took place on July 2, 2012. None of the Crook County Commissioners attended the meeting. Possibly due to fires burning out of control in the county. Representatives of ONEOK also did not attend the meeting, in spite of subscribing to The Sundance Times and presumable being aware that the meeting would be taking place.

A meeting of the Crook County Commissioners was scheduled to hear matters relating to ONEOK on the afternoon of July 3, 2012. A large turnout was expected, and the County Clerk had been advised of this fact. The Commissioners’ chairman had to leave the meeting early, due to a fire on a neighbor’s ranch. Landowners were informed that the meeting had been cancelled. In fact, all other matters scheduled to be heard on the afternoon of July 3, 2012, were heard, with a quorum of commissioners present to continue that meeting.

ONEOK has now consented to host a meet and greet. A date has not yet been set. The meeting has been described as an open house where ONEOK will put up displays and residents of Crook County can mingle with ONEOK representatives. This is nothing more than a public relations opportunity for ONEOK, and is not the formal public meeting required with respect to the ONEOK pipeline projects which will impact the county for decades to come.

Recommendations of the Crook County Natural Resource District

When the Crook County Commissioners meeting which took place last Monday, July 16, 2012, county commissioners had received a letter from the CCNRD. The recommendations in this letter were not raised during that meeting:

Excerpt from July 16, 2012, letter from the CCNRD to the County Commissioners

“After discussing the proposed Bakken Pipeline route with practitioners from the University of Wyoming, representatives from the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as from the Wyoming Pipeline Authority, the CCNRD feels that ONEOK did not conduct due diligence prior to choosing the proposed route through Crook County…”

Overall CCNRD Recommendation: “After a comprehensive review of the documents provided to the CCNRD, it is the CCNRD’s overall recommendation that a more environmentally safe and geologically sound route be chosen for ONEOK’s Bakken Pipeline.”

Excerpts from Dr. Perry Rahn, April 4, 2012, report

“…the Bakken pipeline follo9ws the Triassic Spearfish Formation throughout much of Crook County. This formation contains abundant gypsum…gypsum is much more soluble than calcite (the mineral making up the rock limestone or marble).

“The gypsum dissolves as rain infiltrates into the Spearfish Formation, leading to the development of caves. When a cave roof collapses, a sinkhole may suddenly appear at the land surface.

“My reconnaissance investigation of this area shows that there is abundant gypsum beneath the proposed Bakken pipeline route. This route, from Aladdin to a few miles south of Inyan Kara Mountain, follows the “Red Valley”, underlain by the Spearfish Formation. This unit contains soluble gypsum beds. Sinkholes could occur and compromise the project. The pipeline could develop leaks that would allow natural gas (liquids) to escape.  If the pipeline carries liquid petroleum products, these liquids could seep into ground water.

“A thorough geologic study should have been prepared before this pipeline route was selected. A cursory inspection of a geologic map shows that the soluble gypsum beds in the Spearfish Formation could have been avoided by routing the pipeline west of the Bear Lodge Mountains.”

Excerpts from Seth Wittke’s November 2, 2011, report

“The Wyoming State Geological Survey has numerous landslides mapped in the area; however the brief field investigation found several unmapped landslides. The landslides are occurring mainly in the Sundance, Gypsum Springs and Spearfish geologic formations. The areas contained numerous areas of slope instability (landslides), especially east of Inyan Kara Mountain… It is evident based on the number of landslides that the slopes in the area are relatively unstable between Strawberry Mountain and Black Flats.

“Areas of karst terrain, primarily sinkholes, also occur in the area. The number and magnitude of the sinkholes are more numerous in the Spearfish formation…southeast of Sundance Mountain there are several sinkholes which could be considered ‘active.’ Two of the sinkholes have been active for years…”

Excerpts from Richard Kuprewicz’s, Accufacts Inc. July 16, 2012, report

“An NGL Pipeline release in an at-risk area such as a karst aquifer will have very serious and permanent consequence to the karst aquifer. Karst aquifers, by their nature, are different from conventional aquifers as the large network of conduits or caves in karst aquifers causes oil released into such fast flowing and turbulent underground streams to move or spread very rapidly, much quicker than conventional aquifers. NGL is a mixture of hydrocarbon compounds, and an NGL release, especially a rupture, can swiftly release many tons of hydrocarbons that will rapidly spread within a karst, contaminating the aquifer. Special attention should be paid to pipeline routing in such at-risk areas as oil cleanup/remediation in such sensitive sites is essentially impossible.

“Because NGL under minimum federal pipeline safety regulations is classified as a highly volatile liquid or HVL, the volatility of this stream upon its release is often misunderstood or misrepresented, especially when it comes to pipeline siting decisions. While a release of NGL will definitely produce a heavier than air vapor cloud, the composition of the release will be such that not all of the release will readily go to vapor. For example, the liquid will auto refrigerate upon vaporization, cooling the liquid and slowing the rate of vaporization. While hydrocarbon vapor clouds will definitely be formed, a great deal of NGL liquid will not vaporize readily, especially the heavier components in the natural gasoline. It is these heavier NGL components that persist in liquid form that will be most problematic and rapidly contaminate a karst aquifer, should an NGL release have access to such at-risk sensitive geology…

“Based on Accufacts’ extensive experience, the proposed pipeline route within Crook County raises serious questions as to whether the federally required emergency response plan for this proposed NGL pipeline will be effective, especially in the areas subject to landslides and/or sinkhole threats within karst aquifers. Given the consequences of pipeline failure in these unique areas, the proposed NGL Pipeline project should be rerouted to avoid these sensitive and unique threat areas.”

Excerpts from Edward S. Scott, P.E., Consolidated Engineers, Inc. (CEI) June 1, 2012, report

“…If a sinkhole were to develop beneath the pipeline, there could be significant downward drag (forces) on the pipeline due to the internal friction angle of the soil above the pipe. This drag would add to the stresses in the pipe. For a preliminary estimation of the amount of force, I have assumed a 5 ft. of bury depth and an internal angle of 45 degrees. Using this data, I estimate that the drag of the soil on the pipe could be up to twenty times (20X) the combined weight of the pipe itself plus the weight of the crude oil. This is the force that could cause rupture of the pipe; even at spans considerably less than the stated 100 ft. maximum.

“This preliminary assessment is not an in-depth analysis of the situation due to the lack of specific data related to the project. However, it does highlight that there are structural concerns related to the pipe in relation to possible sinkholes.”


Petitions are available for reading and signing at Crook County Vet and Cassidy Seed and Feed. An on-line copy of the petition is available for reading and signing at http://www.change.org/petitions/crook-county-commissioners-stop-the-planned-route-of-the-oneok-bakken-pipeline-2

Judith Bush