North Dakota Plans To Double Its Pipeline Capacity In Just Two Years

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"North Dakota Plans To Double Its Pipeline Capacity In Just Two Years"

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North Dakota is planning on doubling its oil and gas pipeline capacity over the next two years through building new pipelines and expanding existing lines and refineries, the state’s governor said Tuesday.

At the Governor’s Pipeline Summit Tuesday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple told oil and gas industry leaders that proposed pipeline and refinery projects are expected to double the state’s oil takeaway capacity from about 783,000 barrels per day to about 1.4 million barrels per day by 2016. One of the new proposed pipelines — which was announced at the conference this week — is a project of Enterprise Products Partners LP, which, if built would carry oil 1,200 miles from the Bakken oil fields to Cushing, Oklahoma. Another project, called the Sandpiper pipeline, would carry oil from Tioga, North Dakota, to Superior, Wisconsin.

Pipeline projects are important if North Dakota wants to keep up with the state’s booming oil production — North Dakota produces more than one million barrels of oil each day — as well as help limit natural gas flaring, the governor said.

“We will reduce flaring,” Dalrymple said. “It’s just that simple.”

Gas flaring can be a significant contributor to climate change and is a major problem in North Dakota, especially. Oil producers in the state’s Bakken region burn natural gas from wells that their collection systems can’t catch, and the cheap cost of gas gives companies little incentive not to burn off the gas that often bubbles up alongside oil in the extraction process. In all, according to a report from Ceres, North Dakota wastes enough gas each day to heat half a million homes, and in 2012, emissions from North Dakota gas flares were equivalent to adding almost one million cars to the road. Natural gas is mostly composed of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps more heat than CO2 does in a 20-year period, so gas leaks can be a source of methane emissions. Flaring the gas turns it into carbon dioxide pollution, so cutting flares from oil and gas operations is an important part of reducing overall emissions.

More pipeline capacity isn’t the only way the state aims to reduce flaring. Earlier this month, North Dakota announced that it would start requiring companies seeking drilling permits to show the state how they will capture the gas released by new wells. Rules for existing wells are expected to be announced on July 1.

But though reducing flaring is a climate-friendly goal, building new pipelines — both for oil and for natural gas — is a risky investment for North Dakota. Aside from increasing fossil fuel production and locking the nation into decades of reliance on carbon-heavy fuels, North Dakota has been no stranger to spills. It also hasn’t had the best record in reporting its pipeline-related incidents — last October, a report found that almost 300 oil spills have gone unreported in North Dakota since January 2012. That same month, a pipeline in northwestern North Dakota spilled more than 20,000 barrels of oil into a wheat field. That spill was discovered by a farmer harvesting his wheat, and went unreported by the North Dakota Health Department to the public for 11 days after it was discovered.

The state is making an effort to be more transparent about its spills however — in December, the Health Department launched a website that allows the public to view and monitor reported spills in the state.

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