Posted 4/12/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
It was a full house Wednesday at the TransCanada open house for the proposed Upland Pipeline.
The proposed route, which is still being refined as the company develops its plans, will run through Williams County, from Williston through Epping. It then turns north and runs just east of Tioga, up through Burke County, and across the Canadian border.
People from around the region came to talk to company representatives to learn more about the project.
“I’m here to look it over myself and get informed about it,” said Rep. Bert Anderson (R-Crosby).
The event brought out landowners, elected officials, and residents from all over the region.
Praise and concerns
Harold Schmidt was among the landowners whose land may be crossed by the pipeline. He lives just south of Tioga. It’s an area with an extensive network of pipelines.
“There’s so many of them, if they weren’t covered up it would look like spaghetti,” Schmidt said.
He said he was comfortable with the project in its current plans, but it could be another year before specifics are developed and easements are negotiated.
His brother, Richard Schmidt, had more reservations about it.
“There are so many pipelines, they can keep them,” he said.
The company held a similar meeting in Lignite the previous evening and went on to Williston the following night.
Tom Wheeler, who is president of the Northwest Landowners Association board, said he appreciated the company’s outreach efforts.
“This is great the way they’re going about this,” Wheeler said.
Sen. David Rust (R-Tioga) said the public meetings were reflective of a changing attitude on the part of pipeline companies on how integral community involvement is to the process of building pipelines.
“I think the companies learned that they need to talk to landowners and the people,” Rust said.
However, some residents did not feel the company was addressing their concerns.
Patricia Jensen was also present at the meeting. Her land just north of Tioga is the location of one of the largest land-based oil spills in U.S. history, caused by a leak on a Tesoro-owned pipeline. The company has spent more than two years and over $60 million cleaning it up.
A cleanup was supposed to be completed by now but continues as a large industrial operation of its own. Jensen said Tesoro is more than doubling the capacity of the cleanup equipment in hopes of speeding the process.
She has maintained through the ordeal the most important thing she’s wanted to come out of her misfortune is to have the industry learn how to prevent such disasters from happening again. In this way, the community will become better stewards of the land.
At the meeting, TransCanada representatives discussed at length and provided literature on the safety systems in place, as well as the reclamation techniques they incorporate into their construction projects.
The Tesoro pipeline was installed in the early 1990s, and Jensen said there have been a lot of improvements in the business since then.
“They have to be up on the new technologies. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be,” she said.
Project Manager Kevin Maloney compared the improved safety technologies on pipelines to those of cars, which just a few decades ago had only lap belts, no anti-lock braking systems, and no airbags.
The pipelines of today are monitored by a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that monitors the entire length of the pipeline and feeds data into a centralized monitoring facility. Whenever anomalies are detected in pressure or temperature, the technicians can shut down the entire system immediately.
“We spend a lot of money training these folks,” Maloney said.
They also send “smart pigs” through the pipeline. These were originally developed to clean the insides of pipes.
They now contain a variety of specialized tools to collect data on the integrity of the pipe, which can then be analyzed to detect problems before they happen.
According to the company’s literature these can “detect even the tiniest crack, flaw, or sign of corrosion.”
Additionally, the company uses aerial monitoring to spot any problems, such as a leak in a remote area that wasn’t otherwise spotted by the SCADA system.
These aerial inspections also take note of third-party encroachment so if a person is building a structure near a pipeline, they can notify the person of any potential conflicts with the pipe.
Maloney said the company will also be providing training and information to emergency responders serving the communities along the route of the pipe.
During construction, the company uses x-ray and ultrasonic tools to ensure all welding is done properly and the pipe has integrity.
The company also provided a booklet at the meeting on all the techniques it uses in construction to ensure proper reclamation and topsoil protections.
“It takes a thousand years to make good topsoil, but it takes one day to screw it up,” Maloney said.
The company is now in the process of getting federal approvals required to cross the international border with Canada. After that’s complete, they will begin the state-level application process for approvals through the Public Service Commission.
Maloney said the state process takes about a year and they expect to begin that in early 2017. This will require more public hearings with communities throughout the pipeline route.
Maloney said the response so far has been “very respectful” and left him optimistic about the coming process.
He said the company has also learned a lot from these meetings.
“That’s what these sessions are all about -- talking to the community and getting that feedback,” he said.
TransCanada is a Calgary-based company and operates over 42,000 miles of pipeline in North America. The company headed the push to build the Keystone XL Project, which was ultimately rejected by the Obama Administration.