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A month ago our Poplar Pipeline leaked oil into the Yellowstone River. Since then, we’ve been engaged in an all-out and intense effort to minimize the environmental impact of that terrible and unfortunate accident. Also unfortunate are the articles, including one in this newspaper, that paint an incomplete picture of our operational record and question our company’s commitment to safety. We felt compelled to respond.
Our companies employ more than 1,000 people in 12 states, including Wyoming and Montana. There is nothing more important to our employees and our leadership than safe operations. Our goal for our pipelines is very simple: zero spills. Any amount of oil that escapes any of our pipelines is unacceptable to us and when we fall short, we own up to it and work to make it right.
The article quoted an order from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that resulted from a 2008 inspection that mistakenly cited incidents from a similarly named company but was found to not be ours. This order was ultimately vacated and no longer exists. Most importantly, that quote from seven years ago does not reflect our operations then or now.
It is important for the public to know that from 2009 to 2014 we internally inspected over 375 miles of pipeline every year. That’s above and beyond federal requirements and more than double the rate of inspections from 2004 to 2008. Further, we have re-tested over 569 miles of existing pipe during that time. In that same period, we’ve had eight separate inspections from PHMSA and passed each one without a violation.
In 2011, historic flooding in the Yellowstone River led to a major spill from the Silvertip pipeline. As a result, we developed a program to inspect the depth of cover of all our river crossings. The line beneath the Yellowstone River was found to be 8 feet below the riverbed during that study. We also identified other river crossings and upgraded two major crossings on the North Platte River. As a further commitment to safe operations, we have voluntarily buried lines deeper than required in sensitive areas by using horizontal directional drilling technology. Not only does this reduce the environmental impact of installing the line, it reduces the likelihood of third-party damage to our lines. These are a few examples of the deliberate and careful choices we make every day to make sure our pipelines operate safely.
Pipeline accidents have received a lot of attention lately, and they’re news because they happen less frequently than in the past. In fact, the Association of Oil Pipelines reports that between 1999 and 2013 the number of pipeline incidents fell by 50 percent. We are a small part of our country’s pipeline infrastructure, but what’s happening nationwide is also happening here: increased attention and spending on inspections and safety lead to fewer incidents.
We know that a pipeline operating safely rarely makes news, but an important part of our operational picture is our largest system, Butte Pipeline. It has an incident rate that is 40 percent better than the industry average cited by the Pipeline Safety Trust.
We also know that incidents and accidents can happen, which is why we have developed multiple emergency response plans. These plans help us minimize environmental impact when incidents occur. For example, operators in our Casper control center identified a problem with the Poplar pipeline around 10 a.m. on Jan. 17 and safely shut in the line in less than an hour. This limited the amount of oil that could have been released and lessened the impact of this terrible incident.
Our businesses have called Casper and the northern Rockies home for more than 60 years, and we are passionate about our home and the entirety of the West. Safe operations are at the heart of everything we do.
Throughout the response, we have been transparent to provide a fully accurate and complete picture of the cleanup and will continue to do so. Our continued commitment to safety also means that we will learn all we can from this incident and apply what we learn across our system.
As we have told the residents of Glendive: These are our pipelines. We take responsibility for what happened. We will fix it and we, again, apologize to those residents who have been affected. We are working right now to make it right.
Tad True is vice president of Bridger Pipeline, LLC based in Casper. The company operates oil gathering and transmission pipelines in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.