Pipeline construction to begin in the spring

By Sarah Pridgeon

Construction of the 525-mile Bakken Pipeline, which will stretch from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana to the Overland Pass Pipeline between Wyoming and Kansas, is set to begin in spring 2012. According to Brad Borror, Supervisor of External Communications for ONEOK Partners, the pipeline is expected to be in service by 2013.

Bidding is underway for construction, says Borror, which will take place in four spreads of 100 miles and will involve a total of 200 workers along the line at any one time. The pipeline will eventually transport up to 60,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids.

The project, worth $500 million, will offer “significant” local benefits in the form of property taxes, he goes on, and will also have a positive overall effect on the economy, although it will not directly provide natural gas liquids to the local community. “There’s no valve to tap into, it’s not that kind of pipe,” says Mick Urban, ONEOK Governmental Affairs Manager.

Other potential benefits for Crook County include an influx of between 30 and 40 workers during construction (estimated at one month across Sundance) and the possibility that contractors will use local labor to clean the land before construction and seed it afterwards.

Easement agreements are still being negotiated with the 220 Wyoming landowners across whose property the pipeline will be constructed. A permanent 50-foot easement is being sought, with an additional, temporary 25 feet necessary for construction.

The company has the right to eminent domain – the power to take private land for public use – but invokes it only “when necessary”, says Borror; for example, if a landowner cannot be reached or has died. The company prefers to work with landowners, he goes on, ensuring the process is of benefit to all.

Affected landowners have formed a group called Progressive Pathways LLC to protect the “rights and safety” of landowners and to “negotiate the best possible terms and conditions for easement,” according to Patrick Wade, Chairman. The main concerns of the group include safety, reclamation, appropriate compensation and future abandonment of the pipeline.

According to Borror, safety is a primary consideration in construction and maintenance of the pipeline, which is the “safest, most efficient, most environmentally friendly way to ship.” The pipeline will operate at a pressure of 1,440 lb per inch but will be tested with water at a pressure of 3,000 lb per inch.

Between two and four permanent workers will monitor the pipeline at all times for temperature and pressure changes and landowners will be asked to report any anomalies they notice, such as dead vegetation. ONEOK is also working with Emergency Management Services on safety protocols and permanent workers will hold regular meetings and exercises, says Borror.

If a rupture does occur, he continues, valves in the pipeline will auto-close to stop the flow, limiting the leak to one section of the pipe. The pool of natural gas liquids will then evaporate, after which it will no longer be volatile.

Although ONEOK claims the pipeline will be “designed and constructed to meet or exceed government and industry standards,” Progressive Pathways has expressed concern that few regulatory safeguards actually exist for construction, operation and protection of property.

“How do you regulate safety completely? It’s going to blow eventually, somewhere, and then what happens?” says Maxine Ripley of Progressive Pathways. If and when a problem does occur, she explains, the group would like to know the finer details, such as who will be liable to pay for a fire response.

Though Progressive Pathway is concerned that construction will involve stripping trees and clearing land, Borror is adamant that ONEOK intends to protect the land, returning it either to its original state or to a better one. “You won’t even know it’s there, aside from the markers,” says Urban.

The company will also work to adjust the route if, for example, a landowner had plans to build or develop over the proposed route. This, in Ripley’s experience, has been honored for current work; in her own case, the route was changed to avoid irrigated flats.

“I’d question the sincerity of it when it comes to more nebulous, future plans, though,” she says. “I know of some who have received personal consideration, but it’s not necessarily all.”

Progressive Pathways has also asked ONEOK to guarantee that construction will be limited to “one pipeline, one time,” says Ripley. “It’ll be hard to keep them to that once a corridor has been opened.” In addition, the group would like reassurance that, should the pipeline be abandoned, it will be removed.

Compensation is an important factor in negotiations; ONEOK has always offered financial reimbursement for affected landowners, but Progressive Pathways have asked for an annual payment. “Landowners are the only ones involved that are forced into the process,” says Wade, adding that annual compensation would “make the pipeline an asset to the landowner, rather than a liability.”

Negotiations will continue between ONEOK and Progressive Pathways until “we have something workable,” says Ripley. “Some things, like compensation, we’ll need to work hard to agree.”

The group is eventually looking to change eminent domain legislation within the state, she goes on. “I don’t believe there’s anyone in Crook County who actually wants the pipeline coming through. This is a pristine area and there are so many safety issues and considerations – if you look down the road 50 years, what happens then?”

For membership information and questions regarding Progressive Pathways, contact Pat Wade on (307) 334-2425 or Danny Hanson on (307) 334-3357. For more information about ONEOK and the Bakken Pipeline, visit www.oneokpartners.com/bakkenpipeline