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Committee learns what it would take to regulate pipelines

By Nick Smith

A member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission outlined to an interim committee Tuesday what it would take for the state to assume regulatory oversight of intrastate liquid pipelines.

Members of the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee heard from Commissioner Julie Fedorchak at the state Capitol. She updated the committee on what they learned from a talk last month with federal pipeline regulators.

Fedorchak told them to take the lead regulatory role the state would need to do several things.

“We would have to have the authority to do it and we’d have to adopt all the federal standards,” Fedorchak said.

The PSC also would need to have at least one trained inspector, who Fedorchak said would need to be paid a high salary to retain and not be lured away for higher oil patch wages.

The topic of whether the state should take a lead role in overseeing intrastate pipelines stems from a Sept. 29 incident near Tioga. More than 20,000 barrels of oil from a Tesoro Corp. pipeline leaked onto a farmer’s field.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees intrastate liquid pipelines in North Dakota. The most recent PHMSA data, from 2012, puts the mileage it oversees in the state at 119 miles.

Fourteen states have hazardous liquid programs.

Fedorchak told the committee that a liquid pipelines program likely would be similar in structure to the PSC’s gas pipeline program which has been state-run since 1968. The most recent PSC data shows that it oversees more than 5,800 miles through the program and has two full-time inspectors.

The state’s gas program is partially funded through grant dollars from the PHMSA for equipment and staff. Fedorchak said the PHMSA can fund a state’s program at up of 80 percent of its cost. How much a state receives depends on how much the state appropriates for the program and overall program performance.

Fedorchak said the PHMSA oversees the liquid program regionally with 30 staff overseeing 10 Midwest states. The nearest inspector is located in South Dakota.

“What you get is an in-state North Dakota-run program,” Fedorchak said.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said she felt she was on the same page with the issue as Fedorchak. Triplett said “If you think you need legislation” written that could help move a liquid pipeline program forward to let the committee know.

“You will definitely be hearing back from us again on this,” Fedorchak said.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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