Whalen calls for feedback on pipeline policy

By Sarah Pridgeon

Commissioner Jeanne Whalen is calling for community feedback on the county’s proposed new policy for the installation of commercial pipelines near county roads. As the policy provides a framework that will protect the county’s resources and residents from potential pipeline impacts, she believes that public input is vital to the process.

“All I want is for the public to be aware this is happening. We’ve had plenty of public notice, but we’ve only had a handful of people either show up or comment from among the citizens of Crook County,” she says.

“We’re hearing a lot from the pipeline companies, but I would like to know what the citizens want. For something this important, people need to know about it – as upset as people were [about Oneok’s Bakken Pipeline], I want them to see that Crook County is serious about this.”

When Oneok shared its plans to build the Bakken Pipeline, there was no policy in place to guide the process. Landowners were unhappy with the situation, a stalemate was quickly reached and the company’s construction schedule began to fall behind.

“I have people who are still mad that we went ahead and let Oneok [build the pipeline], but 90 percent of landowners were happy with the arrangement in terms of what the county requested, like the water testing and extra shut-off valves.”

In response to that situation, and to set up guidelines for the future that will protect both the county and the pipeline companies, the commissioners are devising this policy to regulate pipeline construction across or along county roads.

“The Butte Pipeline is going in on the west side of the County and the landowners over there are concerned about what is going on,” says Whalen, highlighting another recent occasion on which a policy would have been useful.

The company was told two months ago that it needed to obtain several permits before constructing across county roads, she explains. At last month’s meeting, however, the commissioners were told that construction had begun without the necessary permits and, at the request of County Attorney Joe Baron, company representatives were forced to rush to obtain them.

“If we’d had the pipeline policy in place, the company would not have had to hurry to get the permits at the last minute – they would have had plenty of time to get them,” says Whalen. “A policy – a checklist – is good for all parties.”