Compressor station explosion raises concerns
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
An explosion at an Oasis Midstream Services, LLC compressor station located north of Watford City on Highway 1806 on Wednesday, Dec. 23, not only set off an automatic 911 call, but is raising concerns from McKenzie County officials as to the proximity that many oilfield structures are being built in regards to residential homes.
While no one was seriously injured as a result of the explosion, which occurred at approximately 11:30 a.m., neighbors who lived nearly one mile away from the compressor station reported not only hearing the explosion, but feeling it.
“The explosion set off the air bag in a pickup nearby which had OnStar installed,” stated Jerry Samuelson of the McKenzie County Emergency Services. “This led to an automatic call to 911 with the Watford City Fire Department, the McKenzie County Ambulance Service, and the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office being dispatched to the scene.”
According to Samuelson, Duane Faulkner, who lives one mile west of the station, said he had some sheetrock damage in his house.
“My husband, Bryant, was home at the time of the explosion,” said Kristi Faulkner. “He said the explosion felt like a truck had hit the house going about 75 mph. He got up and saw a fireball coming up from the compressor station. My mother-in-law, who also lives by us and the compressor station, said it knocked all of the pictures on her wall out of place. My mother-in-law said the explosion felt like someone had picked up her house and dropped it.”
Faulkner’s husband called 911 and headed down to the compressor station after the explosion. Because Bryant works in the oil field and is a volunteer fire fighter with the Keene Fire Department, he headed straight down to the explosion to see if everyone was alright. He talked to the Oasis employee that had been in the building when the explosion happened. He told Bryant that this was the second explosion this year that he had been in.
“I was glad to hear that everyone was alright,” said Kristi. “But I was scared and I was worried about the integrity of our house - the foundation and the structure. I wonder if we’re going to have problems in the years to come because of this explosion.”
Kristi Faulkner says she and her husband have real concerns about the compressor station near their home and have had those concerns ever since they received a letter from Oasis about locating a compressor station near their home.
“In early 2015, there was a public county meeting held in regards to the compressor station coming. My husband went and shared our concerns with the county,” stated Kristi. “The Oasis guy told us that these things don’t explode. He seemed to have absolutely no concerns at all for us or what we were saying.”
According to Faulkner, Oasis was already working on the compressor station before that meeting ever happened and had already been moving dirt and placing things on the pad.
“I even went to the planning and zoning meeting about a week later to try and get it stopped. But nobody cared,” stated Faulkner. “They said, ‘it’s got to go somewhere.’ We were very frustrated.”
The Faulkners weren’t the only residents concerned with the location of the compressor station. McKenzie County Commissioner Kathy Skarda shared those concerns as well.
“I am concerned,” stated Skarda. “When this Conditional Use Permit (CUP) was approved, the company said there was a very small chance of any explosions.
Skarda says that she voted against issuing the CUP to Oasis because of the compressor station’s close proximity to family homes.
“If this explosion caused damage to homes a mile away, what did it do to the integrity of the pipelines that this compressor station services?” wonders Skarda. “This area is a corridor for many pipelines. What does an explosion do to the underground water supplies and formation? Will the explosion cause subsequent shifts in the rock formation in the years to come? Will the company be held responsible if the home’s foundations become unstable?”
Kristi Faulkner says she and her husband just want to make sure everything that was damaged is fixed and anything that happens in the coming years as a result of the explosion is covered. And they want to know how the situation is going to be rectified and what the future holds for pipelines and compressor stations located close to their home.
“We actually received another letter from Oasis on the day of or the day before the explosion,” stated Kristi. “It was a letter stating that Oasis wanted to add more and expand on our property. We definitely don’t want a bigger station because who knows, we might not be here if another explosion happens.
For Kristi Faulkner, she wonders just how many oilfield-related accidents, like Wednesday’s explosion, have to occur before someone cares.
“Does someone have to get hurt or killed before it gets the attention it needs?” asks Faulkner.
According to Brian Grove with Oasis Midstream Services, LLC, the explosion was caused by an apparent equipment failure at the natural gas compression facility.
“There were no injuries to the two Oasis Midstream personnel on-site at the time and there was no spill or release that would present a danger to the public or the environment,” stated Grove. “Damage was limited to the compressor equipment itself and the structure that housed the compressor. There does not appear to be any damage to other assets at the facility.”
According to Grove, the facility has been taken offline to facilitate the investigation and to make repairs to the equipment.
“Since there was an explosion, the company was required to report to us,” says Alison Ritter, Pubic Relations officer with the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. “At this time, we don’t have specific rules directed at compressor stations, but we do have rules that apply to compressor stations such as notifications of fires or leaks, or rules relating to storage. The Health Department has rules regarding air quality. Due to the passing of House Bill 1358 during the 2015 Legislature, our jurisdiction over pipelines has expanded (from first receiving jurisdiction in 2013). We are working on updating pipeline rules and hope to have them in place by Jan. 1, 2017.”
Ritter says she would tell folks with concerns that the oil and gas division’s role regarding pipeline regulation is expanding. She says House Bill 1358 has resulted in the creation of a new pipeline program within the division, and when fully staffed, they have 10 full-time positions, with six of those positions dedicated to pipeline inspection. She says they currently have six of the 10 filled.
“The oil and gas division will be taking the recommendations from a recently released legislatively-mandated study by the EERC regarding liquid gathering lines and write administrative rules. So as fast as the gathering industry has expanded, we are working hard to keep pace with rules that are cost-effective, feasible, and necessary.”
County has little regulatory control over pipeline facilities
Jim Talbert, McKenzie County Building and Planning director, says the real issue is if the county is requiring enough safeguards in their ordinances to protect workers and residents. He says safety is the very first thing that should cross everyone’s mind and is what should be the first priority on everyone’s list.
“I was very keenly interested in going out to the compression station explosion site to see exactly what had happened,” said Talbert. “It was classified as a ‘lesser incident.’ They say ‘incident’ like I cut my finger, but someone could have potentially been injured or killed. Those situations are not ‘little incidents.’ They are serious situations.”
Talbert says that when he visited the site of the explosion on Monday, Dec. 28, with other county and Oasis personnel, there were two compressor buildings, maybe 10 to 15 feet apart, and one of those buildings had the sides and roof completely blown off.
“The Oasis personnel said that there wasn’t gas running through the building at the time of the explosion,” stated Talbert. “They said they were warming up the engine compressor. But something just didn’t make sense to me because of the size of the explosion and how much force and pressure was behind it.”
According to Talbert, he says that one of his biggest concerns with pipelines is that the county, or local government, doesn’t have any regulatory power over certain pipeline facilities that come to the county.
Under the North Dakota Century Code, pipelines are categorized under two types, according to Talbert. The first type is Gathering Lines, which local government has no authority or jurisdiction over, and are regulated by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. The second type is Transmission lines, which local government does have some authority over.
“If they are transmission lines, we have the ability as a county government, to require a CUP,” states Talbert. “If it’s on the gathering side, we don’t. It concerns me that the county doesn’t have a say in the location of these kinds of facilities. The state has their requirements, but I’d like when something like this happens, to have the pipeline company come before the county commissioners to give a report of what happened, what they’re doing to rectify it, etc. That way we know what’s going on as well.”
According to Ritter, the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) does not cite locations of gathering pipelines. However, well locations cannot be closer than 500 feet from an occupied dwelling unless waived by the surface owner.
Talbert says it’s a ‘black eye’ to the pipeline companies whenever a situation like this happens. However, he does think the pipeline companies strive to run a very safe operation.
“It hurts them whenever something like this happens,” stated Talbert. “I appreciate that Oasis came in to talk to us, even though they may not have been required to. They realize this is a big concern for the residents and we want to protect everyone.”
But, when the pipelines fall under county jurisdiction, the county commissioners can include special requirements that the company must meet in order to be granted a CUP.
“Just recently, we had the companies hire a fire specialist engineer to help create a full comprehensive safety plan so that when they come to us, everything is covered and we know every detail of the system being placed in our county,” stated Talbert. “It’s the pipeline companies that we have no jurisdiction over that is concerning.”
State and federal government regulate majority of pipelines
According to Justin Kringstad, North Dakota Pipeline Authority director, there are several different entities on various governmental levels that regulate the pipelines in North Dakota.
“For clarification on who regulates pipelines in North Dakota, it is dependent on the location, commodity, purpose, and size of the system,” stated Kringstad. “A system may be regulated in North Dakota, by either the Department of Mineral Resources or the Public Service Commission, or at the federal level by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and/or the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.”
And according to Kringstad, the North Dakota Pipeline Authority is not a regulatory agency for the industry, but rather “was created for the purpose of diversifying and expanding the North Dakota economy by facilitating the development of pipeline facilities to support the production, transportation, and utilization of North Dakota energy-related commodities.”
Karolin Jappe, McKenzie County Emergency Services manager, along with other county officials, says that if McKenzie County wants anything to change, the county needs to be represented at the North Dakota Industrial Commission meetings. Diligence and consistent presence, according to Jappe, will be key in being heard and addressing future pipeline issues or concerns.
According to the North Dakota Pipeline Association, there are approximately 7,000 miles of pipelines that crisscross North Dakota transporting natural gas, crude and other energy products every day to homes, businesses, and to other parts of the country.
And according to Ritter, McKenzie County has nearly 2,900 miles of gathering pipelines. And to keep an eye on McKenzie County’s pipelines and related facilities, Rittter says there are a number of NDIC personnel directly working for McKenzie County.
“The NDIC has 11 inspectors in McKenzie County,” stated Ritter. “Nine of those are dedicated to well site and facility inspections, and two of those are dedicated to pipeline inspection. In addition, we have two supervisors that spend time in McKenzie County and we are also looking for two additional pipeline inspectors to be based out of Williston. So when fully-staffed, we will have 15 inspectors for the county.”