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Monitoring improved after largest saltwater pipeline spill

BISMARCK -- The company responsible for one of North Dakota's largest saltwater pipeline spills said Tuesday it now has an automated monitoring system in place that will detect leaks sooner.

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View looking uphill toward a berm that's being built near the pipeline spill northeast of Mandaree, N.D., shows dead vegetation on July 8, 2014. Karolin Rockvoy | McKenzie County Emergency Services

BISMARCK - The company responsible for one of North Dakota’s largest saltwater pipeline spills said Tuesday it now has an automated monitoring system in place that will detect leaks sooner.

When Crestwood Energy Partners acquired the Arrow Gathering System in late 2013, the pipelines required on-the-ground monitoring and manual equipment readings, said Robbie McDonough, vice president of land and government relations.

The system consists of about 500 miles of gathering pipelines that transport oil, natural gas and wastewater on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

“The automation had really not been thought through yet,” said McDonough, who was among several industry leaders who spoke during a session on pipelines at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.

When Crestwood began operating the system in April 2014, the company immediately began adding technology to improve the pipeline monitoring, McDonough said.

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But the updates weren’t complete until the third quarter of 2015. In July 2014, the pipeline system leaked about 1 million gallons of brine near Mandaree. The contamination killed vegetation in a ravine and reached Bear Den Bay of Lake Sakakawea.

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Crestwood violated the Clean Water Act. An EPA spokesman said this week the investigation is still active.

McDonough said he couldn’t discuss the spill or the remediation due to the ongoing investigation.

“I will say there’s great progress,” McDonough said.

Crestwood was in the process of improving its monitoring system before it had a single incident on the pipeline system, McDonough said. The company has added meters and other technology to monitor it remotely. Next, Crestwood is using new software to better analyze the data being collected.

“What we’ll be able to do is respond much more efficiently,” McDonough said.

Pipeline leak detection is the subject of a field study that is now underway by the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

The research, which began last week, involves evaluating pipeline leak detection and monitoring systems from four companies, said Jay Almlie, principal engineer with the EERC who also presented Tuesday.

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“The goal of that demonstration phase is not what can we do now, but what’s possible,” Almlie said.

In the first phase of the study, the EERC concluded that proper pipeline construction and installation make a greater difference in preventing spills than leak detection monitoring.

“Leak detection systems are not a silver bullet, especially when applied to gathering pipelines,” Almlie said.

Industry leaders also are researching new technologies to restore the land after a brine spill, said Dustin Anderson, environmental scientist with Oasis Petroleum.

“We’re making great progress,” Anderson said. “There’s more progress that’s necessary. As we continue to look at the science and embrace these new techs and improve them, we’re going to get to the desired goal.”

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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