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They are the arteries of our country, delivering water, energy and fuel to cities, towns and remote areas all across our nation. They are pipelines, and they are the infrastructure needed to ensure our natural resources can continue empowering our economy and energizing job growth.
Every day in the United States, there are more than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines and 2.4 million miles of natural gas pipelines delivering energy to support our nation’s economy. A vast majority—99.999 percent to be exact, arrives at its destination safely, making pipelines the most effective, efficient and economical way to transport the liquid petroleum and natural gas that millions of Americans rely on for their very way of life.
Pipelines are the key in solving North Dakota’s challenges
Faced with limited pipeline capacity, pipeline operators must construct new pipelines and expand existing lines.
Although North Dakota has been an oil-producing state for more than 60 years, only recently has the state risen to become the second-largest oil-producing state in the nation. The changing technologies of oil and natural gas development have allowed for faster and more efficient means of recovering oil resources, which has brought many benefits to the state, including a faster growing economy, more jobs and the displacement of imported foreign oil, meaning greater energy security for our nation.
This rapid growth in places like North Dakota, as well as Colorado, Texas and other states, has made it difficult for the supporting pipeline infrastructure to keep pace with oil development. Railroads have been able to help transport much of this crude, hauling as much as 75 percent of North Dakota’s crude oil in the past. Currently, railroads haul a little more than half of the crude oil produced in the state.
Adding more capacity and new pipelines to the state and nation’s infrastructure would help alleviate transportation challenges of the agriculture community, passenger trains, and other rail users. Four new pipeline projects are pending, and, if approved, would transport an additional 1 million barrels of oil per day via pipeline. This is the equivalent of eliminating 1,505 rail tank cars every day, significantly reducing traffic on railroad tracks, as well as roads and highways.
Addressing road impacts with Gathering Lines
Pipelines do more than move oil and gas out of North Dakota to regional distribution hubs or refineries. Smaller pipelines, called gathering lines, are also needed to transport crude oil and natural gas from each well to in-state distribution centers or natural gas plants. Without them, crude oil must be hauled by truck and natural gas must be flared.
According to estimates from the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, in September 2013 more than half – or about 4.15 million barrels – of all oil produced in North Dakota was trucked from well sites to distribution hubs each day. In McKenzie County, the state’s top producing county, 69 percent of crude oil was hauled by truck. Adding 100,000 barrels of oil per day in pipeline capacity could help remove as many as 500 trucks from the roads and highways each day, alleviating traffic concerns and impacts to infrastructure.
Gathering lines solve the flaring challenge
While Energy of North Dakota be hauled by truck, natural gas cannot. Natural gas must be transported by pipeline and an inability to quickly build the needed infrastructure has led to flaring in North Dakota. The industry has made great strides in the past three years, investing more than $13 billion into pipelines and processing facilities, and successfully increasing natural gas capture from 65 percent in January 2014 to 83 percent as of May 2015.
In fact, only four percent of North Dakota’s natural gas is flared because of an absence of pipeline infrastructure, while 13 percent is flared because of challenges on existing infrastructure which may be solved with “pigging,” or cleaning out existing lines, adding capacity to the lines or adding additional processing capacity.
Better, faster pipeline construction
One of the setbacks in building pipeline infrastructure is the delay in getting access to land by landowners or by state, federal or local governing bodies. This is often due to issues relating to proper reclamation or restoration of land after a pipeline has been installed. To address these issues, the industry has joined with other stakeholders to create a number of resources for all parties involved, as well as institute an ombudsman program through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture designed to help resolve any concerns.
Another concern is spills. While pipelines do deliver products to their destinations 99.999 percent of the time, they are not perfect. Spills can and do happen, but these incidences can and are being remedied.
The state legislature appropriated $1.5 million to help clean up oil and gas issues that occurred prior to 1983, with $500,000 of these funds directed toward a pilot program to study and establish best practices for responsibly removing salt from soil. An additional $1.5 million has been directed to the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center to study and analyze pipeline standards to ensure North Dakota’s pipelines are built with the best technology and materials available today.
A comprehensive pipeline network is vital to our economies, businesses, homes and very way of life. In North Dakota, they are the key to solving many of the challenges associated with oil and gas development.